Chris Ault has seen the enemy and the enemy is wearing Silver and Blue.
"Our biggest concern right now is us," the Nevada Wolf Pack head coach said this week in preparation for Friday night's showdown on national television (6:05 p.m., ESPN) with the Missouri Tigers (3-0) at Mackay Stadium. "Missouri is a very good football team, but our deal right now is about us. We have to correct our mistakes first before we can do anything else."
The Wolf Pack (0-2) was penalized 11 times in last Saturday's 35-20 loss at Colorado State. It was the most penalties committed by the Pack since they were also called for 11 infractions on Sept. 15, 2007 against Nicholls State, a span of 23 games.
"There's no excuses for those penalties," Ault said. "That's poor coaching. It starts right here."
The Pack players have also gotten the message.
"We're killing ourselves on offense," said quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has been intercepted four times in two games after getting picked off just 10 times in 24 games over his first two seasons. "We're making too many mistakes. If we stop shooting ourselves in the foot, we'll be fine. Our problems don't come from anything the other team has done to us. Our problem has been what we've done to ourselves."
Missouri will present an entirely new batch of problems for the Wolf Pack. The Tigers of the Big 12 Conference, ranked 21st in the nation in the USA Today Coach's Poll and 26th by the Associated Press, are undefeated after beating Illinois, Bowling Green and Furman by a combined score of 116-41. This will be Missouri's first true road game of the year after playing in front of crowds in excess of 60,000 each against Illinois at a neutral site (St. Louis' Edward Jones Dome) and at home against Furman and Bowling Green.
"It's a lot of our guys' first real road game," said Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who has thrown for eight touchdowns this year without an interception. "So we're all pretty excited about it."
Missouri, led by quarterback Chase Daniel and wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, beat the Wolf Pack, 69-17, last season in Columbia, Mo. The Tigers scored on their first 10 possessions, handing Ault the most lopsided loss in his 25-year head coaching career.
The Wolf Pack, though, isn't dwelling on last season or even the first two games of this season.
"It's going to be great to get our first home game, see our first home crowd," Wolf Pack defensive back Mo Harvey said. "I feel like we can get payback from last year. This is a chance for us to get revenge and beat a nationally ranked team."
Ault, 21-3 in home openers in his Pack head coaching career, knows the Tigers will pose a tough test.
"They are as talented as Notre Dame," Ault said. "And they have a more sophisticated offense."
Daniel, running the Tigers' spread offense, threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns (three to Maclin) last year against the Pack. Daniel and Maclin are no longer with the Tigers but running back Derrick Washington and wide receiver Jared Perry, among others, will be at Mackay Friday night. Washington ran for 75 yards and two scores against the Pack and Perry caught a TD pass.
The Tigers also feature wide receiver Danario Alexander, who has thrown a TD pass and caught 20 passes for 234 yards and two scores this year.
"They will make you cover the entire field," Wolf Pack defensive coordinator Nigel Burton said. "They want to spread you out and make you tackle one-on-one."
There aren't many secrets when it comes to preparing for the Tigers.
"On defense they play basic football and just tell you, 'We're better than you. Try and beat us,'" Kaepernick said.
The leader of the Tigers' defense is linebacker Sean Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon, who had a dozen tackles in last year's meeting with the Pack, leads the Tigers with 29 tackles this year. He also gets a lot of help from linebacker s Andrew Gachkar and Will Ebner (20 tackles), free safety Jasper Simmons (19 tackles) and defensive end Aldon Smith (four tackles for a loss).
"He's all over the field," said Ault of Weatherspoon. "He's their inspirational leader."
Ebner has impressed Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel.
"He hits people and they know they got hit," said Pinkel, who is 4-0 as a head coach against the Wolf Pack with Toledo (twice in 1995, once 1997) and Missouri.
Weatherspoon said he is not going to be fooled by the Pack's 0-2 start.
"We had some scares against them last year," Weatherspoon said. "They have a quarterback that can create mismatches. Their two losses are kind of misleading. They had a lot of turnovers and I'm sure they are trying to get that fixed."
The Wolf Pack has turned the ball over eight times (five against Colorado State) combined in its two losses and has not forced a turnover by its opposition. The Pack has yet to even force an opponent to fumble.
"Anytime you have five turnovers in a game you're not going to give yourself a chance to win," Ault said.
"It's frustrating more than anything because I know we're better than we've shown," Kaepernick said. "I see it in practice everyday. But we just have to come out and do it on the field."
The Wolf Pack went back to basics this week in practice.
"The essence of football is execution," Ault said. "Football is a team game and we just haven't been good enough in any phase of the game."
Pinkel, who brought his Toledo team to Mackay Stadium in 1995 (a 49-35 Toledo win), has warned his team about playing in Reno.
"It will be a huge deal," Pinkel said. "We're excited to play and I know they're going to be. Their fans will be into it, I guarantee you. This is a good game for us against a real good football team in a tough environment. We're going to find out about ourselves a little bit."