True freshman quarterback Cureton to replace Gangi, Bengals are 0-27 against FBS teams since 2000
Because there already haven’t been enough debuts for this Nevada football team season, head coach Jay Norvell will opt for another on Saturday afternoon at Mackay Stadium.
He will ask true freshman quarterback Kaymen Cureton to deliver the first win of the season. Cureton, a 5-11, 205-pound stud athlete, will have the benefit of playing an Idaho State team that’s 27-99 since 2006 and 0-27 against FBS competition going back to 2000.
The Bengals, who are also led by a first-year head coach, have just five wins to their credit the past two-plus seasons. Three were against NCAA Div. II programs.
So, no, Cureton isn’t exactly lining up against Alabama. That doesn’t mean nerves and blatant signs of inexperience won’t be there, because they will. It just means the margin for error will be significantly greater than it will be next week in Pullman against Washington State.
Nevada is coming off a 37-24 home loss to Toledo, a game it was never really in. Three straight fourth-quarter turnovers squashed any thoughts of a comeback and symbolized the offense’s start to the season. The Air-Raid has averaged 22 points/game two weeks into the fall.
Kickoff at Mackay Stadium on Saturday will be at 4 p.m. The game can be watched on AT&T SportsNet and John Ramey will have the call on ESPN Radio 94.5 FM.
About the Bengals
Coach: Rob Phencie (first season, 1-1)
2017 Record: 1-1, 0-0 Big Sky
Last week: 51-13 loss at Utah State
2016 Finish: 2-9, 1-7 13th (last) in Big Sky
Quarterback: Redshirt junior Tanner Gueller will make his 15th career start for Idaho State on Saturday. He threw the ball over 40 times a game last year, completing 58 percent of his passes for 2,351 yards (235.1 yards/game) and 20 touchdowns. He was prone to turning the ball over, throwing 10 interceptions and already has four through the first two games of 2017 – two each vs Western Oregon and Utah State. He’s not much of a runner, but that doesn’t mean he’s scared to tuck the rock. Despite averaging just 2.5 yards a carry last year – a number bolstered by a 52-yard scamper vs Montana – he was second on the team with 63 attempts. He lost his favorite target to graduation in KW Williams (64 receptions for 683 yards and 11 touchdowns) and is yet to find a go-to. Four different receivers have between five and seven receptions, although Michael Dean is trying to become the guy. The 5-6 sophomore who was the team’s leading returning rusher in 2016, shares the team lead in receptions (7) for a team-high 124 yards and two touchdowns.
Weapons: Mitch Gueller, Tanner’s sophomore brother, is the guy Idaho State expected to take a big step this year and help replace Williams’ productivity. It hasn’t happened yet. The younger Gueller will make his first start of the season on Saturday after grabbing 36 passes for 509 yards and three touchdowns (second on team behind Williams) as a freshman. Redshirt sophomore running back Ty Flanagan won the battle for the starting job following the graduation of last year’s starter Jakori Ford. Flanagan has 39 carries (nobody else has more than nine) for 206 yards (5.3 yards/carry) and two touchdowns. Running isn’t a priority for the Bengals though. They want to throw the football. They averaged just 123.5 yards/game on the ground last year and are on a similar pace through two games this year (127.5 yards/game). Senior Hagen Graves is another name to watch in the passing game. Graves was second on the team in receiving among returners and has grabbed seven passes for 102 yards through two contests.
What to look for?
-The Air-Raid offense is yet to find its wings. And it may not for the entire 2017 as players adjust to the unfamiliar scheme. That doesn’t mean Norvell and offensive coordinator Matt Mumme plan to wait around and simply hope for different results. True freshman quarterback Kaymen Cureton will get the start in place of Ty Gangi, Norvell told reporters following Monday morning’s practice. The decision may be a sign of belief that Cureton is the signal caller of the future. Or maybe it’s a move of frustration (Gangi completed 47 percent of his passes). It’s likely a little of both. Either way, the timing is optimal at home against an FCS team that allowed 41 points per game last year. Cureton, the nephew of Tony Gwynn, is a plus athlete who was recruited by the likes of LSU, Alabama and Oregon. The decision to start Cureton is perhaps telling of junior Alabama grad transfer David Cornwell’s place on the depth chart.
-The run game becomes drastically more important with a true freshman quarterback taking his first collegiate snaps. Nevada had some success on the ground against Toledo with a limited sample size (109 yards on 24 carries) one week after impressing at Northwestern (142 yards on 26 carries). The Union and Jaxson Kincaide need to move the ball to prevent putting the offense in predictable situations that will allow the Idaho State defense to get aggressive. That shouldn’t be too much to ask against a Bengals defense that allowed almost 229 yards rushing yards a game last year and just got carved up for 255 yards on the ground by Utah State last week.
-Nevada’s talented secondary hasn’t exactly impressed early. That’s largely a testament to the schedule, and it certainly didn’t help losing starting safety Asauni Rufus to a first-quarter targeting call against Toledo. Clayton Thorson (Northwestern) and Logan Woodside (Toledo) completed 47-of-65 passes (72 percent) against Nevada for 584 yards with four touchdowns and just one interception. That number would be at two if not for a highly questionable call against Toledo. They averaged 9 yards/attempt. The group will be tested once again this week against an Idaho State team and quarterback Mitch Guellar which likes to throw the football. It hasn’t been entirely efficient though. Guellar is completing 57 percent of his passes and has any many touchdowns as interceptions (4). Nevada’s DBs will have the opportunity to get their hands on a few footballs Saturday afternoon.
-Nevada’s run defense should dominate this game. It’s been awhile since that sentence was typed and it wasn’t sarcastic. Northwestern and Toledo both made a conscious effort stay on the ground against Nevada (why wouldn’t they?) and totaled 110 carries. The Wolf Pack’s front allowed just 350 yards on those plays, good for a 3.2 yards/carry average. That number finished at 6.1 last year. Idaho State is a poor running team and totaled just 113 yards on 36 attempts last week at Utah State. Continued strong play up front should allow Nevada to improve on third down, a troubling area early. Nevada allowed Northwestern and Toledo to convert on 44 percent of third downs. Idaho State has moved the chains on just 8-of-27 third downs (30 percent).
Nevada fans were curious about a change at the quarterback position since approximately the first drive of the Northwestern game. The curiosity morphed into angst against Toledo last week as boo birds even made their first appearance of the Norvell era. So much for the species waiting until conference play to migrate to Mackay. The decision to sit Gangi wasn’t nearly as surprising as the revelation of who will replace him. Cureton will ease into the starting roll against easily the weakest team on Nevada’s 2017 schedule. Being at home will help too.
Nevada 34, Idaho State 13