TAMPA -- In his 28th season as Nevada's head coach, Chris Ault is considered the Albert Einstein of college football.
Already in the College Football Hall of Fame, Ault in 2004 created the Pistol offense, parts of which can be seen in almost any big-time college playbook.
Dubbed the "Godfather of the Pistol," Ault used it in 2009 to help Nevada lead the nation in rushing and finish second in total offense. That year the Wolf Pack became the first team in college football history with three 1,000-yard rushers in the same season, including quarterback Colin Kaepernick, now with the San Francisco 49ers.
The offense presents enormous problems. Defenses have to be alert and highly disciplined. The approach is based on last-second deception and will severely test a University of South Florida defense that had more than its share of problems last season. The two teams meet at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Reno, Nev.
Nevada is believed to be the only team in college football that uses the Pistol the entire game.
The Wolf Pack defense is considered mediocre, and of course Ault has been talking great things about USF as coaches do against their next opponent.
Nevada defeated Pac-12 foe California 31-24 on the road last week and has gone to seven bowl games in the past eight years.
"I really do think they are more athletic than Cal," Ault said of the Bulls. "I think they're a better overall team. You look at their defense, and it's all upperclassmen. They're juniors and seniors. It's a pretty veteran football team, and they have terrific athleticism."
The Bulls took care of lower-division Chattanooga 34-13 at home in their season opener. But in the past three years, Nevada is 17-2 on its home field.
To make it tougher on USF, it has to turn around and play Rutgers next Thursday at Raymond James Stadium. The Bulls are 0-7 on Thursday nights.
USF head coach Skip Holtz doesn't dare look ahead, especially with last season's 5-7 record fresh in his memory.
Nevada is in its first season in the Mountain West Conference and has an experienced quarterback in sophomore Cody Fajardo, who last year threw for 1,707 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions, completing 150 of 218 passes while running for 694 yards.
"This is going to be a great challenge for us because they (Nevada) were probably just the opposite of what we were a week ago. They were disciplined. They did all the things the right way. They protected the football and played within the system," Holtz said. "We just kind of went out and out-athleted a little bit. We're going to really have to shore things up as a football team."
Bulls defensive coordinator Chris Cosh liked the way his unit played but knows it will be a totally different scenario this week dealing with a better, innovative team that is playing in a stadium 400 feet above sea level.
"They have great balance with more than 200 yards passing and running (against Cal), and they are the originators of the Pistol offense," Cosh said. "They have a very mobile quarterback who was the California state player of the year in high school, and he can attack you in many ways."
Holtz hasn't tried to hide how he feels about the game and how important it is to get off to a good start against quality competition.
"It's a business trip. I said you're going to see the inside of a hotel room and the inside of a stadium and then what you see out of the bus window," Holtz said. "That's about what you're going to see of Nevada. ... We've got a single purpose and our purpose is to get back on that plane 1-0 this week."
In the Pistol, the quarterback lines up four yards behind the center rather than seven yards, as with the shotgun formation. The running back lines up three yard directly behind the quarterback, as opposed to next to him as in the shotgun.
The quarterback is close enough to the line of scrimmage to be able to read the defense and far enough back to give him extra time and a better vision of the field just like in the shotgun
Stefphon Jefferson took advantage of the "Pistol" against Cal rushing for 147 yards and three touchdowns. Fajardo was nearly unstoppable completing 25 of 32 passes for 230 yards and rushed for 97 yards.
"It causes a lot of problems as an option offense," Cosh said. "All 11 players have to play the option. Every run play they have, they have a play action off of that. You have to control your eyes."