The pistol is an offense designed to utilize both the strength of the shotgun and the single-back offense. The quarterback takes a shotgun-like snap from center, but just four yards behind the line of scrimmage rather than the usual 7 yards in a shotgun. This makes plays happen faster, and being closer to the line of scrimmage, it enables the quarterback to read the defense better. The single running back lines up three yards directly behind the quarterback, instead of to his side as in the shotgun, so the formation can utilize more straight-ahead, power running plays, as well as counters, options and more. The formation is especially designed for dual-threat quarterbacks with their ability to run and pass.
The pistol was originated by long-time Nevada head coach Chris Ault, and has been slowly seeping into college football, and a bit into the NFL. UCLA's coaching staff, including Offensive Coordinator Norm Chow, was put in touch with Ault by UCLA's baseball coach, John Savage, who is Ault's son-in-law. Chow and some members of the UCLA staff went to Nevada to meet with Ault during the off-season.
The theory for UCLA is that the pistol will still use the straight-ahead running game that both Chow and Rick Neuheisel covet, and feel is a vital part of an offense. It can easily go to a two-tight end set, which Chow's offense uses often. But it also will take advantage of an athletic quarterback, such as both Kevin Prince and Richard Brehaut, and be able to utilize three receivers and an "H-back"-type at different times.
The word is that UCLA will experiment with its own variation of the pistol, so it should be very interesting this spring to see exactly how that looks and operates. Again, the word is that UCLA is going to experiment with it in spring practice, with the hopes that the formation could be used to provide another dimension to UCLA's more traditional pro-style set.