Cureton next man up for Nevada Wolf Pack

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The Nevada Wolf Pack’s quarterback carousel keeps spinning.

Wolf Pack head coach Jay Norvell announced this week freshman Kaymen Cureton will start at quarterback today (4 p.m.) against Idaho State at Mackay Stadium. Cureton replaces Ty Gangi, who passed for 476 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions in the Pack’s first two games this season, a 31-20 loss at Northwestern and a 37-24 loss to Toledo a week ago in the home opener.

“We just feel that the best thing for K.C. (Cureton) is that he plays now,” Norvell said.

Cureton is the third quarterback Norvell has named the starter since fall practices started seven weeks ago. David Cornwell, a junior transfer from Alabama, was named the starter at the beginning of fall practices and Gangi was named the starter for the season opener at Northwestern.

“K.C. has always shown great flashes,” Norvell said. “The last few weeks he’s practiced well and we feel he deserves this opportunity.”

Cureton wasn’t made available for media interviews this week.

“We want our quarterback to study,” Norvell said. “We want our quarterback to lead his teammates and execute accurately on Saturday.”

Norvell said he wants his players “to listen to the coaching.”

“When we tell them to do something, we want them to do it,” Norvell said. “It’s very simple. We’re not seeing enough of that on Saturdays. They sometimes revert back to old habits they had before we got here.”

The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Cureton will be the first true freshman to start a game at quarterback for the Wolf Pack since David Neill in 1998. Neill beat Fresno State on the road 27-24 on Sept. 26, 1998 in his first start. Jeff Rowe played in six games as a backup in 2002 as a true freshman. Fred Gatlin became the starter as a true freshman in the fourth game of the 1989 season (also against Idaho State).

“We really like his qualities,” said Norvell of Cureton, who played for three high schools (Lakewood, Los Angeles and Leuzinger) in southern California. “He thinks like the coaches think. That’s what you want in players because they reflect what you want on the field.”

Norvell has already played six true freshmen this year: wide receivers McLane Mannix, Daiyan Henley and Elijah Cooks, defensive backs Nephi Sewell and Berdale Robbins and tight end Reagan Roberson.

“As we move forward we are going to see a lot of freshmen play,” Norvell said.

Cureton, who played for Wolf Pack outside receivers coach Eric Scott at Los Angeles High in 2014 and 2015, turned down scholarship offers from a number of schools, including Alabama and LSU, to come to Nevada. LSU and Alabama, though, wanted Cureton as an “athlete” and not as a quarterback. Cureton, however, did pass for more than 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in each of the past two seasons at Los Angeles High (2015) and Leuzinger High (2016).

“Some kids get labeled as an athlete and not a quarterback,” Norvell said. “It’s just because they are very athletic. K.C. is very athletic but he also thinks like a quarterback. He can find the open receivers.”

Gangi completed less than half (35-of-74) of his passes this season.

“We’re just not completing enough passes,” Norvell said. “And it’s not all the quarterback’s fault. The passing game is different because you have to get the receivers and the quarterback on the same page.”

With Cureton at quarterback, the Pack’s top three players in the backfield along with running backs Jaxson Kincaide and Kelton Moore will all be under 6-feet tall. Moore is 5-11 and Kincaide is 5-8.

“He has natural leadership skills,” said Norvell of Cureton. “He’s young. We know he will make mistakes. But we just need him to execute what he has done in practice. We’re not getting that right now.”

Idaho State could be the perfect opponent to revitalize the Wolf Pack, especially on offense. The Big Sky Conference’s Bengals beat Division II Western Oregon (37-6) in their season opener and then lost to Utah State of the Mountain West (51-13) last week. Utah State rolled up 596 yards of offense. Aggies quarterback Kent Myers completed 24-of-26 passes for 323 yards and two touchdowns.

“We’re more concerned with us,” Norvell said. “It’s about the way we compete and the way we execute.”

Norvell said he remains optimistic about the Pack’s offense.

“We told the players that with this offense all of a sudden the light goes on and it starts clicking,” he said. “We’ve already seen strong success and we’re still not doing a lot of things right.”

“We’re close,” offensive lineman Austin Corbett said. “We see it every day in practice. We just need to start doing it in games.”

The Wolf Pack defense is also looking to improve this week. The Pack has allowed an average of 34 points and 467 yards a game this year and has allowed opponents to convert 44 percent (15-of-34) of their third down plays.

“Our defense has a responsibility to get off the field,” Norvell said. “We have to start winning third down.”

Defensive end Malik Reed said third-down success starts with putting pressure on the quarterback. The Pack has just one sack this year.

“It’s about getting teams in more third and longs,” Reed said. “We still have to do better rushing the passer. It’s not always easy to rush the passer with a three-man front but we have to find a way to do it and I think we will.”

Idaho State, which won the Division I-AA national championship in 1981, has fallen upon hard times in recent years. The Bengals are just 35-112 since the start of the 2004 season with just one winning season (8-4 in 2012) over the last 13 seasons. The Bengals have lost 27 games in a row against Football Bowl Subdivision schools, most of them by embarrassing margins. UNLV beat the Bengals 80-7 in 2015.

The Wolf Pack has won seven consecutive games against Big Sky Conference teams. Nevada’s last loss to a Big Sky team was in 1994 to Boise State. Boise State left the Big Sky after the 1995 season. The Pack has also won 11 consecutive games against FCS schools. The Pack has also won 11 games in a row against Idaho State, though the two schools haven’t met since they were both in the Big Sky Conference in 1991.

“We’re pressing for the type of execution we want both offensively and defensively,” Norvell said. “It’s a collective game. It’s not just the quarterback.”

Norvell, though, said the production from the quarterback has to improve.

“That position is no different than any other,” he said. “We want to see that position play at a high level. We want to play our best players.”


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