RENO - Chris Ault walked into the Nevada Wolf Pack's halftime locker room last Saturday afternoon at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas with a purpose.
"I only talked to the defense," the Wolf Pack head coach said. "I was very calm and I talked in a monotone."
Ault's message was simple.
"I just told them, 'Enough is enough,'" said Ault, whose Wolf Pack found itself trailing UNLV at halftime (31-14) for the first time in eight years. "We were 17 down. I just told them, 'Stand up and be accountable.'"
UNLV scored points on five of its six drives in the first half, converted 4-of-6 third-down plays and held the ball for over 19 minutes.
"That was embarrassing," Ault said.
The Wolf Pack defense stood up and shut down the Rebels in the second half. The Pack held the Rebels without points on four of their five drives in the final 30 minutes and allowed UNLV's offense to hold the ball for a mere 8:53. The Pack rallied for 42-37 victory, overcoming 21-0 and 28-7 first-half deficits along the way.
Ault's message this week is simple.
"We have to play an entire game to beat this team," said Ault of tonight's (7:35 p.m.) meeting with the San Diego State Aztecs at Mackay Stadium. "Last week we only played half a game. We can't get away with that against San Diego State."
The Aztecs are the second-highest scoring team in the Mountain West (the Pack is first at 41 points a game) at 38 points a game. They are fourth in the conference at 419.6 yards a game (the Pack is first at 549.9). Aztecs quarterback Ryan Katz leads the Mountain West in pass efficiency at 152.5, is second in touchdown passes (13) and fourth in passing yards (1,328). Running back Adam Muema is sixth in the league with 702 yards.
"They have just as good a group of athletes as Cal and south Florida," said Ault, recalling the Pack's first two opponents this season. "It's going to be a challenge for us."
Ault is hoping the Wolf Pack defense that came out of the halftime locker room in Las Vegas is the one that plays the entire game today at Mackay Stadium.
"The good thing about it is they knew they weren't playing well," Ault said. "There's no excuses for the way we were playing defense in that first half and they knew it."
Ault said he was stunned by the way the Pack defense played in the first half at UNLV.
"We didn't play with any emotion or energy," he said. "I don't know why, You are supposed to play with energy the moment you get off the bus."
"Guys were a little too excited for that game," linebacker Albert Rosette said. "Guys were trying to do too much, trying to make plays that weren't their plays. You saw guys out of position, trying to do everybody else's responsibility instead of their own."
The Wolf Pack (6-1, 3-0) will bring a five-game winning streak into Saturday's game. San Diego State (4-3, 2-1) has scored 90 points combined in winning its last two games against Hawaii (52-14) and Colorado State (38-14).
"Nevada is the best team we've played so far this season," said San Diego State head coach Rocky Long, whose Aztecs opened the year with a 21-12 loss at Washington.
Long, a former defensive coordinator, has seen the Wolf Pack before. He was New Mexico's head coach when the Lobos beat the Pack 23-0 in the 2007 New Mexico Bowl. The shutout was the first suffered by the Pack in 329 games and 27 years. Long's Lobos held the Pack to just 73 yards rushing, the second fewest rushing yards (Boise held the Pack to 59 rushing yards in 2011) the Pack has had in a game since Ault implemented the pistol offense in 2005.
"It's completely different," said Long when asked how the Pack offense this year compares with 2007. "They are doing much more read option now. The offense isn't even close to the same offense. This offense is much better than it was back then.
"I don't think you can stop their offense. There's a reason why Coach Ault is in the Hall of Fame. He's a great coach and this offense is his invention and he knows it better than anybody."
Today's game seems to be shaping up to be an offensive shootout, similar to the 1995 meeting between the two teams down in San Diego when Wolf Pack quarterback Mike Maxwell passed for 401 yards and running back Kin Minor ran for 102 yards.
"The game will come down to whose defense makes the most big plays," said Long, whose Aztecs are first in the Mountain West in rushing defense (allowing just 116 yards a game) and ninth in pass defense (265.4 yards a game).
The Pack defense made one huge play to help beat UNLV when linebacker Dray Bell picked off a Rebel pass to set up the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter. UNLV quarterback Nick Sherry, who completed his first seven passes against the Pack, was 0-for-3 on third down against the Pack.
Long was impressed with the Nevada comeback last week.
"That tells me, first of all, they have a lot of talent and, second of all, they have a lot of character," Long said.
"We have to play a full game," Ault said. "The good thing about last week is that nobody backed down. They learned a valuable lesson last week. That's what we have to build on."