RENO The Nevada Wolf Pack defense went back to school this week.
"We're starting from ground zero with that group," head coach Chris Ault said this week as his Wolf Pack prepared to face the San Jose State Spartans today (1 p.m., 630-AM, Channel 21) at Spartan Stadium.
The Wolf Pack defense had a day to forget last Saturday in a 69-20 loss at Oregon. The Ducks piled up 603 yards of offense and scored 10 touchdowns, eight on offense, one on special teams and one on defense. Six of the eight Oregon touchdowns on offense came from 20 yards out or beyond.
"Defensively speaking that was a disaster," Ault said.
The Pack's performance on defense becomes even more alarming when you consider Oregon only had the ball on offense for just 21-minutes and 42-seconds:.
"Our players played confused," Ault said. "Defensively, we were just non-existent. You watch the tape of the game and you say, 'Man, did they have a clue out there?'
"We obviously did not have our kids ready on the defensive side of the ball. It all starts with coaching."
Ault was particularly disappointed in the performance of the Pack secondary. Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas completed 13-of-19 passes for 295 yards and six touchdowns in basically three quarters of work.
"I was just sick watching that," Ault said. "These are good kids. I enjoy coaching them. This is the best secondary I've had coming back in five years.
"But there were assignment busts, players not knowing where they should be. We were literally embarrassed."
The Wolf Pack started one senior (cornerback Isaiah Frey), two juniors (strong safety Duke Williams and cornerback Khalid Wooten) and a red-shirt freshman (free safety Charles Garrett) in the secondary against the Ducks. They will all likely start again at San Jose State.
"We just came out flat," Frey said. "We didn't make plays when we needed to. Overall it was a bad day."
Frey remembered another bad day that he experienced in 2008 as a freshman. That's when Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel passed for 405 yards and four touchdowns and completed 23-of-28 passes in a 69-17 win over the Pack.
"A lot of us have been through a game like this before," Frey said. "The Missouri game a few years ago. We'll bounce back."
Frey, though, said the Pack defense won't simply dismiss their performance against Oregon as just another "bad day."
"It is a reality check," Frey said.
Pack linebackers James-Michael Johnson and Brandon Marshall, who also played in the Missouri game, also promised that the Pack defense will learn from what took place on Saturday.
"We didn't perform the way we wanted to," Johnson said.
"Everybody is disappointed," Marshall said. "We didn't play up to expectations."
"We'll make the right adjustments," Johnson added. "This won't happen again."
The loss was the Pack's second largest on opening day in the school's 105-season football history, since a 70-0 loss to Belmont in the program's first game in 1896.
"We're not going to forget this," Ault said. "We need a reminder to tell us how humbling this game can be when you are not ready to play and you don't execute."
The defense wasn't the only unit that Ault was disappointed in after last Saturday. The special teams, after all, had a field goal blocked, an extra point botched and allowed a punt return for a touchdown. The offense had the ball for 38-plus minutes, gained 516 yards and scored just 20 points with three turnovers.
"I don't know if we've ever played as poorly in all three phases of the game in our first game in my entire career," said Ault, now in his 27th year as Pack head coach.
San Jose State, 0-2 after losses to Stanford and UCLA, would seem to be the right medicine for what ails the Wolf Pack. The Spartans have lost 28 of their last 32 games dating back to the middle of the 2008 season.
"We're not going to overlook anybody right now," Ault said, "not with the way we played in our first game."
The Wolf Pack has won its last three games and eight of its last nine against San Jose State, including a 35-13 victory last October at Mackay Stadium. The Pack has outscored the Spartans 138-37 in the last three games of the rivalry which began in 1899.
"I know they'll be foaming at the mouth to get back on the right track," San Jose State head coach Mike MacIntyre said this week.
The Spartans, which run the Pack's pistol offense, played well in a 27-17 loss to UCLA last week at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. They found themselves in a 17-17 tie in the fourth quarter despite having to play the entire game with starting quarterback Matt Faulkner on the bench because of a concussion.
The Spartans ran for 202 yards on UCLA but also allowed UCLA, another team that runs elements of the Pack's pistol offense, to rush for 272 yards.
"Their (San Jose's) defense was very physical," Ault said. "They did a very nice job against UCLA. You watch film of that game and you say, 'Man, they have made a major improvement.' It's pretty obvious."
MacIntyre announced Thursday that Faulkner has been cleared to play against Nevada but sophomore Dasmen Stewart will start. Stewart, who is more mobile than Faulkner, passed for 111 yards and ran for 47 against UCLA.
MacIntyre, though, hinted that both will play against the Pack.
"I would imagine there will be two out there when it's all said and done," MacIntyre said.
The Spartans, though, were not the Pack's top priority this week.
"We'll have our hands full with San Jose," Ault said. "But the most important thing we'll have our hands full with is us. We have to fix ourselves first before we worry about what the other team does."
One thing the Pack hoped to fix this week was its running game. The Pack rushed for 283 yards against Oregon but Ault felt a change in the starting running back was needed. Nick Hale started and gained 20 yards on eight carries last week and Mike Ball came off the bench to run for 99 yards on 14 carries.
Ball, Ault said, will get the start against San Jose State.
"Last week our running backs had a tough time," Ault said. "They need to read the (defensive) front better. Most of our runs went directly up the middle. Our offense is not designed to go directly up the middle like that. It's designed to go on the sides."
Hale, Ault said, didn't play badly against Oregon.
"He was OK," Ault said. "But he didn't do anything spectacular."
Ball, Ault said, has more upside than Hale.
"You need one guy that is the heart and soul back there and all the rest of the guys fit around him," Ault said. "We haven't found that guy yet. Mike Ball should be the guy. But you have to take advantage of the opportunity when it comes."
Saturday's game is an opportunity for the Wolf Pack to get the bad taste of Oregon out of their mouths. At 0-1, after all, the Pack is under .500 for the first time since they opened the 2009 season at 0-3.
Ault, though, just wants to get everything pointed in the right direction.
"It wasn't much of a game (last week)," He said. "We need to get some excitement back in this program this week."