How Oklahoma State Punches in Touchdowns with their Diamond Pistol

by Derrik Klassen

Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy is among the craftiest offensive minds in college football. Gundy is an expert in manufacturing space for his wide receivers and abusing coverage mismatches for his quarterback. Through countless roster iterations over the past decade-plus as Oklahoma State’s head coach, Gundy has always found ways to create, adapt, and remain one step ahead of the other premier Big XII schools.

Over the last couple years, Gundy has adopted one particular trend that is unique to Oklahoma State, at least in the volume it is used. In short yardage situations, particularly inside either 5-yard line, Gundy now turns to the diamond pistol formation, also known as “full house.” The diamond pistol formation features three players in the backfield with the quarterback: one player to his left, another to his right, and the primary running back directly behind him. 

This is the most basic version of Gundy’s diamond pistol formation and an explanation from West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen as to why a team would use this formation. In short, spread and air raid teams such as Oklahoma State and West Virginia do not always have high-end tight end talent, but they do have hybrid H-back type players because they better fit their systems. Rather than force those players to be blockers on the line of scrimmage, an offense can line them up in the backfield and use them to move all across the line of scrimmage, giving the offense “moving” gaps in the run game. Either H-back can also be replaced by a traditional running back and force even more hand-off possibilities. 

Here is Oklahoma State motioning Hill into the backfield behind the quarterback to run inverted veer (or power read) with an H-back to the left and a backup running back to the right. The read defender (#53) widens out with the left H-back and Hill, giving the quarterback space to tuck the ball and plunge in for a touchdown behind the pulling right guard. Boise State linebacker #44 also overruns the quarterback keep to chase the fake to the running back across the formation. With so many possibilities and moving pieces in the backfield at once, it is difficult for the defense to get a comfortable read on the situation and react appropriately, hence why the quarterback was able to effortlessly punch this touchdown in. 

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Not only can the formation be deceptive in the ground game, but in pass protection, the two H-back players also serve as immediate protection for blitzes through the A-gap. As a result, the formation is great when pushed inside your own 5-yard line and need to keep the quarterback protected. The diamond pistol also creates 1-vs-1 situations on the sideline because defenses have to load the box to respect the run threat, which can also be valuable for trying to get a quick pass off from your own end zone. 

This is a perfect display of the diamond pistol formation providing security up front and a reasonable 1-vs-1 situation on the outside. Quarterback Mason Rudolph is allowed to safely fake the hand-off and immediately throw a back shoulder pass to wide receiver James Washington. Throwing a back shoulder pass may not sound like a game-breaking play, but much like a goal-line fade, this play allows the offense a relatively low-risk pass in exchange for a big reward. When you are backed up inside your own end zone, you’ll take that any day of the week. 

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The diamond pistol formation can also come in clutch on short yardage situations. Similar to how the two split backs provide immediate A- and B-gap protection in the passing game, they can also attack those areas in the run game. The offense can effectively provide the running back with two lead blockers without having to pull an offensive lineman, while still threatening 1-vs-1 passing on the outside. 

On this fourth-and-1 play, Oklahoma State comes out in their traditional diamond pistol look, then shift the running back a couple steps to the left before the snap. Hill takes the hand-off for an inside zone run to the right. The left H-back cuts off the backside pursuit defender, while the right H-back pushes forward to help clear the way for Hill to get the one yard he needs. Hill trudges through the traffic and tumbles forward past the sticks to pick up a crucial first down in opposing territory. 

For the most part, this formation is a situational look for Oklahoma State. They use it sparingly in base situations, but inside either 5-yard line or in short yardage situations, Gundy often turns to this formation to get the job done. Though not the most innovative package, the diamond pistol formation Gundy the blend of safety and creativity that he feels is necessary for these specific, high-pressure situations. 

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Oklahoma State is unique in how often they use this formation as a defined part of their offense. Other programs such as Oklahoma and TCU also call this formation inside either 5-yard line, but not as consistently as Gundy’s Pokes. The stress of using the formation as a situational tool is a Gundy special. So long as Oklahoma State continues to have quarterbacks who are fairly mobile and hybrid players who can make it as H-backs, the diamond pistol formation is not leaving Stillwater any time soon.