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November 27, 2009

Nevada's 'pistol' targets Boise St. for WAC title

(AP) -- In January 2005, coach Chris Ault told his assistants he was going to install a concoction he dubbed the "pistol." He wanted to dramatically alter Nevada's pass-happy, shotgun offense that had just produced a losing season.

Ault is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. He is as much a fixture in Reno, Nev., as slot machines and the Arch.

Yet his deputies looked at their boss like he was nuts.

"Like, 'Oh, boy!' A One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest-type thing," Ault said this week, laughing through the telephone from "the Biggest Little City in the World."

"There was nothing around like it. That was really the toughest thing for putting the pistol in. There was no film, there was nothing we could look at. ... Everything we've done in the pistol is homemade."

And well-made.

That first "pistol" team won nine games. Now, with quarterback Colin Kaepernick 3 yards behind center to receive the snap instead of 7, with three wide receivers - and, hey, what's that lone running back doing so close behind the quarterback? - Nevada (8-3, 7-0 WAC) is the first team in NCAA history to have three 1,000-yard rushers in one season. The Wolf Pack lead the nation with an average of 373 yards rushing per game. No one else is within 60 yards of them.

They are rampaging during their current eight-game winning streak, averaging 446 yards on the ground and 52 points per game. They put up 773 total yards against UNLV, the highest one-game output in the nation this season.

Bad news for the 'Pack: Boise State isn't UNLV - or, for that matter, the rest of the soft WAC that Nevada has annihilated since losing to Notre Dame, Colorado State and Missouri to begin the season.

The No. 6 Broncos (11-0, 6-0) enter Friday night's showdown for the conference championship on their blue turf nearing their third perfect regular season since 2004, and second in a row. Behind surgically precise sophomore Kellen Moore, the nation's passing efficiency leader with 33 touchdowns and just three interceptions, plus wondrous receiver Austin Pettis, Boise State leads the country averaging 44 points per game.

Bronco Stadium may need to borrow the big board from the New York Stock Exchange to track this points-a-palooza. The last time the Broncos and Wolf Pack played in Boise, two years ago, Boise State won 69-67 in four overtimes, one of the highest-scoring games in NCAA history.

Boise State coach Chris Petersen calls Nevada's pistol a combination of the triple option, the spread offense and the old wing-T - with the goal being to isolate a lone, overmatched defender at the point of attack.

"No one's been able to slow it down," Petersen said. "It will be our biggest challenge, for sure, that we've had in a long, long time around here."

Kaepernick is the 10th quarterback in NCAA history to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. The list includes Vince Young of Texas, Brad Smith of Missouri and Pat White of West Virginia.

Vai Taua leads Nevada with 1,185 yards rushing. Luke Lippincott's 162 yards in last week's 63-20 demolition of New Mexico State leaves him with 1,028 yards this season.

"Now, this thing has advanced quite a bit for us," said Ault, who along with Bobby Bowden, Joe Paterno, Frank Beamer, Jim Tressel and Mack Brown are the only active coaches in the bowl subdivision with 200 wins.

Only Bowden and Paterno have been coaching at one school longer than the 25 years Ault has been at Nevada.

"The imbalance of the passing game has surprised us," Ault said of his pistol, as if he's lost control of what he created.

Balance may be key to handing Boise State its third loss in 64 home games and ruining the Broncos' BCS hopes.

Kaepernick has averaged just 21 passes per game. He will likely need to throw more than that, and throw it well, to keep pace with the prolific Broncos, since Boise State is likely to crowd everyone except Idaho's governor to defend the run.

"I really do like throwing the ball," Ault said, trying to be convincing and citing his wide-open, pre-pistol passing days. "Against Boise, you have to throw the ball. They are going to force you to."

No one has to force Boise to throw, not with Moore and Pettis around. On the rare passes when Moore isn't perfect, Pettis leaps and taps the ball down into his other hand for amazing receptions. That's what the nephew of former Gold Glove outfielder Gary Pettis did while snaring four touchdown passes two weeks ago in a 63-25 rout of Idaho. Pettis's school-record streak of 10 consecutive games with a scoring catch ended last week at Utah State, so expect the junior to be primed to extend his school record of 14 TD receptions this season.

He and Moore are likely too excited to sleep knowing Nevada is 119th out of 120 major college teams in pass defense, allowing 286 yards per game.

If only that pistol could help the Wolf Pack shoot down the Broncos' offense, too.


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