Nevada's "pistol'' offense – a hybrid of the shotgun and option, which also incorporates downhill running and misdirection – gets your head spinning. It happens in a hurry. Sometimes, it prompts an uneasy question from defensive players.
Where is the ball?
The University of South Florida Bulls aren't confused about the magnitude of today's challenge at Mackay Stadium. When the Bulls (1-0) face the Wolf Pack (1-0), they know defensive discipline is paramount.
"They're going to try and take our eyes away,'' USF senior linebacker Sam Barrington said. "We can't let that happen. We've got to know where to be at all times. If we're not, they can hurt you.''
USF's defense gained confidence from last week's 34-13 victory against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, a Football Championship Subdivision opponent that gained just 151 yards against the Bulls. But facing Nevada, particularly after a cross-country trip into high altitude, is a different matter.
USF can't be gun-shy.
The Wolf Pack, a Mountain West team that might be unfamiliar to East Coast fans, have won 16 of their past 17 home games. That streak includes a 2010 victory against Boise State (34-31 in overtime), which gave the Broncos their only loss.
Nevada's bottom line has been the pistol, the brainchild of Wolf Pack coach Chris Ault, already in the College Football Hall of Fame and 227-103-1 in a 27-season career. After the 2004 season, Ault toyed with creating a power running game in a shotgun formation. He positioned the quarterback four yards from the center, instead of seven yards in a traditional shotgun. The running back was placed three yards directly behind the quarterback.
"Usually, a running back is set on the side, but this look is different,'' USF defensive coordinator Chris Cosh said. "He can go left or right. He can come straight ahead. The offensive linemen come off the ball more effectively.
"We're going on the road for the first time. How are we going to handle that? We've got to pack our fundamentals, our details, our toughness. We've got to tackle in space. They're going to stretch you horizontally. They're going to stretch you vertically.''
Nevada's season-opening 31-24 victory at California was a pistol-whipping clinic. The Wolf Pack rushed for 221 yards and passed for 230. Sophomore quarterback Cody Fajardo completed 25 of 32 passes and also rushed for 97 yards.
"That quarterback (Fajardo) smoked the Cal secondary (on a 49-yard run),'' USF defensive backs coach Rick Smith said. "He outran the corners and the safeties. He is legit.''
"It all starts with the quarterback,'' USF coach Skip Holtz said. "He's a sophomore, which makes you say, 'Wow!' He's so steady in everything he does. That pistol system makes you play option football, but you have to be aware of the downhill. It's a totally different look. As soon as you start cheating up (in the secondary), here comes the play-action. They'll replace you in a heartbeat.''
USF's front seven is geared for a physical game.
"We've got to stop their athletic quarterback,'' Bulls junior linebacker DeDe Lattimore said. "But it's not about him. It's about us and our discipline and how we prepare for this trip.''
It's also about the conditioning required to play on a field 4,610 feet above sea level.
"I don't know of any altitude I've played in,'' USF senior quarterback B.J. Daniels said. "Tallahassee (Daniels' hometown) has some hills and mountains.''
This is different – way different.
This is Nevada.
The Bulls know they must be prepared. The Wolf Pack can strike quickly.