His 19th-ranked Wolf Pack need a victory Saturday night at Hawaii to stay perfect on the season and keep pace with powerhouse Boise State in the Western Athletic Conference.
The problem is they've gone 0-5 against Hawaii at Aloha Stadium, and haven't beaten the Warriors on the road since 1948 — 11 years before Hawaii became a state.
“Nobody goes into Hawaii as favorites,” said Ault, whose team is favored by a touchdown.
Nevada (6-0, 1-0 WAC) is off to its best start since 1991, though, when the then-Division I-AA Wolf Pack went 12-0 before losing in the playoffs.
With the Wolf Pack comfortably handling all challengers so far (Nevada has yet to trail in a game) and their plans to join the Mountain West Conference next year, this may be Ault's best and last chance at leaving Hawaii with more than a nice tan.
“"Whether it's Hawaii, Nevada or any place else, a road win is a big deal,” Ault said. “It doesn't matter what their team's record is or how the team is doing. To win on the road is really a challenge for anybody in any sport.”
The WAC showdown pits two of the nation's top offenses, with Nevada's pistol taking on Hawaii's run-and-shoot. Nevada ranks second in total offense (545.3 yards) and fifth in rushing (314.3), while Hawaii is sixth in total offense (496.7) and leads the nation in passing (421.7).
Nevada is led by quarterback Colin Kaepernick and running back Vai Taua, each with 11 rushing touchdowns and averaging 7 yards per carry. Last week against San Jose State, Kaepernick passed for 273 yards while Taua ran for 196 and three scores as the Wolf Pack racked up a season-high 640 yards of offense.
“A lot of people run the pistol, but they don't have Kaepernick and they don't have Taua. Those two guys are really special players,” Hawaii coach Greg McMackin said.
Ault said he's pleased with how physical Taua has been, averaging 139.5 yards rushing.
“We're going to keep feeding him that football,” Ault said.
Hawaii defensive coordinator Dave Aranda called trying to stop Nevada's attack “a pain.” Taua's tough to tackle and Kaepernick has improved throwing the ball and reading defenses.
“He's making checks, audiblizing and taking advantage of weaknesses. All of that is advance stuff,” Aranda said. “That's stuff he wasn't doing back then that he's doing now. It leads to precision.”
While Nevada's success was expected, Hawaii (4-2, 2-0) is somewhat of a surprise. The surging Warriors, picked to finish seventh in the conference, are seeking their fourth straight win and trying to stay in the hunt for its second WAC title in four years.
“I really think that we're starting to believe now. We're starting to believe in one another. We're starting to believe we can play with anybody in the country,” McMackin said.
A big reason for Hawaii's success is the growth of quarterback Bryant Moniz, who leads the nation in passing (374.2 yards per game). The junior has completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,245 yards, 18 touchdowns and four interceptions.
In Hawaii's three-game winning streak, Moniz has passed for 1,303 yards and 13 TDs. Last week, Moniz threw for 376 yards and three TDs in a 49-27 victory at Fresno State.
“Right now, everything is just clicking for us,” Moniz said. “When we're executing, it's hard to stop.”
His favorite targets are Greg Salas and Kealoha Pilares. When one gets double teamed, it has opened the way for the other to have a big game. While Salas is big and strong, Pilares is quick and shifty.
“I don't think you can double anybody in our offense,” said Salas, who has 50 catches for 757 yards and seven TDs. “If you do focus on one player, we have receivers that all can make you pay — every single one of us even our second-string guys.”
Ault said his secondary can't allow big plays and must keep receivers in front of them. Defensive end Dontay Moch, who set a WAC career record in tackles for loss last week, will pressure Moniz up front.
Nevada cornerback Isaiah Frey said Hawaii's offense is sort of like the Wolf Pack's, only that the Warriors pass.
“They're an option-passing team," he told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “Depending how you align and where you start out, that changes their routes. So it's critical for us to disguise our coverages.”
Last year in Reno, Nevada rallied from a 14-0 deficit to win 31-21 and hand Hawaii its sixth straight loss.