Boise State had one of its most dominating defensive performances in some time against Fresno State last week.
Now all eyes will be on the Broncos' defense once again as they face one of their biggest challenges of the season – stopping Nevada quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the Pistol offense on Friday night in Reno.
Nevada coach Chris Ault has received plenty of accolades this season for inventing the Pistol, which features the quarterback lined up 4 yards behind center and a running back directly behind him. Many teams around the country are now using the Pistol, but Nevada runs it to near perfection thanks to Kaepernick and Vai Taua.
Boise State has had to defend this offense with those two players for the last several years, so facing it is nothing new. But it provides a bit more of an added dimension this year because Kaepernick is more of a threat to throw the football. He is completing a career-high 66 percent of his passes, and no longer a threat to only run.
That has Boise State on alert.
“He’s not the same passer he was last year,” said Boise State defensive tackle Billy Winn. “He’s excelled in the pass game this year and really impressed us out here with how well he throws the ball.”
Still, the first key is to slow down the run. This game features strength against strength: Nevada ranks No. 4 in the country in rushing offense, and Boise State ranks No. 1 in rushing defense. In the last two games between them, Kaepernick has been unable to reach the 100-yard mark on the ground.
Last year, Kaepernick had 31 yards rushing, while throwing for three touchdowns. It was Taua who had 160 yards on the ground and one touchdown. In 2008, Kaepernick had 70 yards on the ground and Taua 75.
“In the run game, we’ve been able to contain [Kaepernick] a little bit. That’s been the biggest thing that’s helped us out -- not allowing those big explosive runs down after down,” Winn said. “Kaepernick is one of those guys -- he’s going to make plays regardless. He’s an explosive athlete. He’s one of those top end guys who can make plays, and it’s going to be on us to try to eliminate that as much as possible.”
Kaepernick has done incredible things in this offense. He needs 16 rushing yards to hit the 1,000-yard mark for the season. That would make him the first player in NCAA history to pass for more than 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in three straight seasons.
He and Taua have combined to form one of the greatest rushing duos in NCAA history. They need 84 yards to break the record of most yards gained by two players in a career. SMU duo Eric Dickerson and Craig James hold the record of 8,193 yards set from 1979-82.
Kaepernick thinks his team will be able to run the ball on Boise State, but also said one of the reasons they have been slowed the last few years is because the Broncos have lined up in different looks they never saw on tape.
“We don’t think there’s too much more that they can throw at us, so I think we’ll be prepared going into this game,” Kaepernick said.
Still, the offensive line and Taua are going to have to be at their best for Nevada to have a chance. The Wolf Pack have struggled at times to run between the tackles.
“You’re going against a formidable front,” Ault said. “It all starts up front. Vai is a terrific running back, he knows how to read the plays, but if you don't block for him up front it won't make a difference. The key is to get our front to block, and Vai’s got to find the holes to make it happen.”
Or Nevada could be on the way to its 11th straight loss to the Broncos.