Joe Santoro: Pack QB Cureton needs a driving instructor | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Pack QB Cureton needs a driving instructor

Joe Santoro

Joe Santoro

Watching Kaymen Cureton play quarterback last week against Idaho State was like watching a 9-year-old learning how to drive a car. Half the time you were wondering whether or not he could even see over the dashboard. The other half made you want to cover your eyes in fear. There were times when Cureton found himself in traffic and just took off down the sidewalk. He seemed like he was always driving with the trunk wide open, the gas cap on the roof and both turn signals flashing. And then there were those times when he just took his hands off the wheel. But nobody dared look away. It was like seeing a six-car pileup on the freeway. You just had to look for fear of missing something you never saw before in your life.

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Cureton did a few things that would suggest better days are ahead. But, for the most part, he looked like a frightened puppy who just takes off in fear with his tail between his legs after hearing a loud noise. And, remember, this was Idaho State, the equivalent of driving down a neighborhood side street at 3 a.m. It wasn't exactly like maneuvering through the Spaghetti Bowl at rush hour. Cureton fumbled the ball four times and on a possible game-tying 2-point conversion pass with under a minute to go the ball just slipped out of his hands. His numbers (19-of-33, 205 yards, three touchdowns) suggest he wasn't awful. But the majority of his completions were caught near or behind the line of scrimmage and a quarter of his yards (54) came on one toss to a wide open McLane Mannix who, it seems, is always open. And, again, it was Idaho State. The Pack, understandably, was obviously trying to protect its wet-behind-the-ears freshman quarterback with short, simple passes. The so-called Air Raid offense also ran the ball 56 times and threw just 33 passes. Air Raid remains Air Afraid.

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If Ty Gangi would have played on Saturday the guess here is the Pack would've won by two touchdowns. First of all, Gangi wouldn't have been sacked four times like Cureton was on Saturday. Gangi was sacked just once over the first two games by vastly superior teams (Northwestern, Toledo). It's also doubtful Gangi would have dropped the ball four times and on that fateful 2-point conversion play he likely would've just ran it into the end zone. Also, Gangi would've likely thrived with the game plan (short, safe passes) Cureton had against Idaho State. Cureton also ran the ball 16 times (for a net of five yards), the most carries in a game by a Pack quarterback since Cody Fajardo ran it 22 times against Fresno State late in the 2014 season. Yes, few of those 16 carries were by design. The majority of those carries were an inexperienced freshman giving up on a play too soon and acting like he was still in high school. Go figure.

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None of this, to be sure, is Cureton's fault. He's young. He wasn't supposed to play this season. Heck, he wasn't even supposed to play next season. He should be red-shirting right now, running the scout team offense in practice. Colin Kaepernick, Cody Fajardo, Chris Vargas, to name just three, all had to sit out their true freshman seasons. It doesn't really make sense for the Pack to play Cureton now. They're not getting the best four years out of Cureton, forcing him to play now and bidding farewell to him after the 2020 season instead of keeping him on the roster through the 2021 season. They're basically trading a season in 2021 when he would be a mature, seasoned and accomplished quarterback for a mistake-filled freshman season in 2017 when he's running around and forgetting to hold on to the football.

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It seems, though, playing Cureton was Norvell's plan — or at least his desire — all along. He sure was quick to toss Gangi back to the bench and he has yet to even give David Cornwell, a junior who spent three years practicing with the best football program (Alabama) in the country, a chance to show what he can do in a game. The Pack's handling of Cornwell is mysterious to say the least. Just the mere mention of Cornwell's name in a press conference seems to raise Norvell's blood pressure to dangerous levels. When you ask Norvell why Cornwell isn't playing he treats the question as if you're accusing him of picking the name of his starting quarterback out of hat. Norvell needs to understand the longer Cureton (or Gangi) struggles, the better Cornwell will look in the eyes of the fans or media because, well, we've never seen him play in a game. Nobody has.

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Wolf Pack fans should never forget this year we're watching a head coach who's learning how to be a head coach at any level, a quarterback who's learning how to be a quarterback in college and an offensive coordinator (Matt Mumme) who's learning how to be an offensive coordinator in Division I. They might all turn out to be excellent. They are all confident. They just haven't been all that good yet once the ball is kicked off in a game. Norvell keeps telling us this offense is like a light switch. One day the Pack will flip the switch and the offense will light up a room. That might be true. The Pack will play a lot of bad defenses this year. The key is whether or not the light will stay on or keep going on and off.

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There has been a lot of things about this Wolf Pack offense that have gone well. Jaxson Kincaide, Kelton Moore and Blake Wright have run the ball extremely well. Wide receivers McLane Mannix and Wyatt Demps seem to always be open and on the verge of making a big play. The offensive line has blocked well. The quarterback, no matter who he is, has shown flashes. This team will score a lot of points this year. As soon as the secondary starts to knock down a few passes — that will happen when the Pack discovers a pass rush — this team will begin to win games.

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The Wolf Pack has lost its first three games of a season before and still ended up going to a bowl game. The 2009 Pack lost to Notre Dame, Colorado State and Missouri and then won its next eight games. But that team had a junior quarterback named Kaepernick and a junior running back named Vai Taua and a head coach named Chris Ault. They also had a friendly schedule that was filled with awful football teams (New Mexico State, San Jose State, Utah State, Hawaii, UNLV). This year's schedule doesn't appear to be as forgiving the rest of the way, starting with Saturday at Washington State. But a bowl invite still might come down to the final regular season game against UNLV on Nov. 25 at Mackay Stadium. That alone makes this season still worth watching.

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