PROVO — BYU's defense will be under the gun when it faces Nevada's prolific pistol offense.
Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault, considered one of the innovators of the pistol, has found the perfect triggerman in quarterback Colin Kaepernick. And the Cougars are hoping to avoid being pistol-whipped Saturday — as California was, 52-31, last weekend — when they host Nevada.
Kaepernick is No. 2 in the country in total offense, averaging 365.6 yards per game. He rushes for 123 yards per outing, is completing 70 percent of his passes, and he's run and passed for 13 touchdowns this season. Last year, the 6-foot-6, 225-pound senior became the first player in NCAA history to record back-to-back seasons of passing for 2,000 yards and rushing for 1,000 yards.
Coming into the season, Kaepernick was overshadowed by another Western Athletic Conference quarterback, Boise State's Kellen Moore. But after shredding the Golden Bear defense last week, Kaepernick is now being mentioned as a serious Heisman Trophy candidate.
A three-sport high school star out of Turlock, Calif., Kaepernick, who can throw a baseball over 90 mph, received several baseball scholarships. Nevada was the only school to offer him a football scholarship.
"When he was younger, he came to our quarterback camp. He wasn't a polished quarterback but he had a strong arm," Ault remembered. "We decided to offer him. We thought he could be a great free safety. We're blessed that he developed as a quarterback. He's a special guy."
BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall is impressed with Kaepernick.
"He gets faster every time I watch him," he said. "He's got long strides that you don't see many people catch him. For a really tall guy, he's pretty elusive, making the first guy miss at the line of scrimmage."
Cougar outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy, a Reno native, said Kaepernick "is a good athlete. He's a strider, kind of like (Ohio State's) Terrelle Pryor. Those guys don't look fast, but they really are. We have to keep tabs on (Kaepernick) the whole game."
Considered one of the most underrated teams in the country, the Wolf Pack are off to a 3-0 start. Nevada started 0-3 a year ago.
"This is the first time since I've been here that this team is really a team," Kaepernick said. "We've really gelled. Our offense is supporting our defense, our defense is supporting our offense. Our special teams fit in there perfectly. All around, we've come together."
The Wolf Pack are on the verge of being ranked in the top 25 for the first time in school history. "For us, we just want to keep winning football games. That will take care of itself if we keep playing well," Kaepernick said. "Everyone's really excited. For most of us, we just want to keep it rolling. We want to keep this winning streak alive."
The Cougars have already gone against a few talented running quarterbacks this season — Washington's Jake Locker, Air Force's Tim Jefferson and Florida State's Christian Ponder.
"I think he's equal, if not better, than the ones we've played," Mendenhall said. "The style of play is a little bit different, but in terms of athleticism, and what they ask him to do in this offense, I think he's having the most impact of any of the three we've played thus far."
Last season, the Wolf Pack led the nation in rushing and became the first team in college football history to have three 1,000-yard rushers in the same season. Coaching staffs around the country have flocked to Reno to learn more about the pistol. UCLA, Arkansas and Alabama are among the schools implementing the Pistol offense.
The pistol, which adds a power running game to the spread offense, features the quarterback lining up in shotgun formation, only three or four yards behind center. The running back lines up a few yards directly behind the quarterback. The QB is close enough to the line of scrimmage to read the defense, yet far enough back to have extra time and increased field vision.
"It's basically option football and the ability to throw it," Mendenhall said. "Anytime you play Air Force or Navy, teams that are exceptional at running the football, with option principles, they usually can't throw the ball effectively in addition to that. Nor do they have a quarterback that can do both. It's option football and the ability to throw the football by a quarterback that can do both. That's what makes it so difficult."
While Nevada is scoring 50 points per game, BYU's defense is ranked No. 98 in total yards allowed and No. 119 against the run.
"As we continue to improve our assignments, improve our fundamentals and continue to play with more of a consistent effort, I think we'll improve," Mendenhall said. "I'm not saying that will be this week nor am I saying that we'll stop or even slow down the pistol (offense). That's our hope. My main focus is just committing to improve our team."
This season's statistics: Passing Rushing
Date Team Cmp. Att. Yds. TDs Int. Yds. TDs
Sept. 2 E. Wash. 26 37 306 2 0 60 2
Sept. 11 Colo. St. 21 29 241 2 0 161 2
Sept. 17 California 10 15 181 2 0 148 3p>
Cougars on the air
Nevada (3-0) at BYU (1-2)
Saturday, 4 p.m.LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo
TV: The mtn.
Radio: 102.7 FM, 1160 AM