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Nevada football 2020 spring position preview: Quarterbacks

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NCAA Football: Nevada at San Diego State Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

First off, before I begin, I want to thank every single first responder, doctor, nurse, health professional and all of the people in the medical field around Nevada (where I reside) and the United States who are working to help us defeat this pandemic. I hope everyone is, and remains safe during these troubling times. We will all get through this together.

Now lets get into it.

As football season approaches (despite spring football not being able to be played), we will be breaking down each position group of the Nevada football team every Monday.

Today, we will be looking at quarterbacks.

Anyone departing?

Cristian Solano:

NCAA Football: San Jose State at Nevada
Nevada quarterback quarterback Cristian Solano (13) throws a pass versus San Jose State.
Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

Solano appeared in ten games and started just one game last season for the Wolf Pack. Solano, who entered last spring as the projected starter, injured his hand in early August and was beat out by redshirt freshman Carson Strong. Last year, Solano completed 25-of-41 (61.0 percent) of his throws for 248 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The 6-foot-2 signal caller made his biggest impact on Nevada’s running game, rushing for 138 yards on 26 carries (5.31 ypc). In his lone start versus UTEP, Solano rushed for 100 yards on ten carries — one of three games where a Pack player totaled 100-plus rushing yards (Toa Taua had the other two). Solano went 13-for-19 (68.4 percent) for 182 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. In his Wolf Pack career, he completed 57.6 percent of his passes for 504 yards, two touchdowns and six interceptions.

Malik Henry:

Malik Henry (16) throws a pass versus San Jose State.
Nevada Athletics Department

Henry, who starred in season’s 3 and 4 of Netflix’s “Last Chance U”, unenrolled from the University prior to this current spring semester. Henry made just two starts in his junior season, completing 42-of-78 (53.8 percent) of his passes for 593 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. His best game came against San Jose State where he completed 22 of his 37 pass attempts (59.5 percent) for 352 yards and a touchdown. Last October, head coach Jay Norvell announced that Henry was no longer participating with the team to focus on academics and off-the-field issues. He never returned. The highly-anticipated Malik Henry era, which began in January of 2019 when he joined the team as a walk-on, was short-lived and did not have much traction. Henry has one year of eligibility remaining.

Kaymen Cureton (maybe?):

Idaho State v Nevada
Quarterback Kaymen Cureton #8 of the Nevada Wolf Pack throws against the Idaho State.
Photo by Jonathan Devich/Getty Images

Cureton is currently in the transfer portal with two years of eligibility remaining, so there is the possibility he returns. Cureton appeared in three games (two starts) at quarterback during his freshman season in 2017, completing 20-of-38 (52.6 percent) for 213 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He moved to safety at the end of 2018, the year he redshirted, but converted back to quarterback in the middle of last season.

Austin Kirksey:

Kirksey, Nevada’s first recruit of its 2019 recruiting class, left at semester break due to family reasons. He did not appear in a game last season with the Wolf Pack. Kirksey, a three-star recruit out of Walton High School in Marietta, Ga. (per 247Sports), is walking on at the University of Georgia.

Anyone returning?

Carson Strong:

NCAA Football: UNLV at Nevada David Calvert-USA TODAY Sports

Strong returns as the starting quarterback this spring. Strong had a roller coaster 2019 freshman campaign. Starting in all ten games he appeared in, he completed 63.4 percent of his passes for 2,335 yards, 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His season analytically did not bode well. Strong’s 33.7 adjusted QBR (quarterback rating) and 121.8 passer rating both ranked among the bottom-2 among qualified Mountain West quarterbacks. On the bright side, Strong threw for 300-plus yards three separate times and 400-plus once — coming against Ohio in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. He threw for 402 yards on 31-of-49 (63.3 percent) passing with one touchdown with one fumble. Despite the struggles at times, Strong should be able to learn and clean up some of the mistakes he made last season. Strong, for the most part, led this team to a bowl game (despite Nevada losing) as a redshirt freshman. That is not something turn a blind eye to. He has a strong arm (no pun intended) with solid accuracy and is built for Matt Mumme’s air raid offense. If he is able to complete more passes to receivers downfield (his 9.85 yards per completion ranked worst in the Mountain West and fourth-worst nationally), Strong will develop into a dangerous passer over in the coming seasons.

Kaiden Bennett:

Bennett transferred from Boise State to Nevada last season, sitting out due to NCAA’s transfer rules. He grew up just a few miles from Reno in Sparks, Nev., but transferred to Folsom, Cal. after his freshman year of high school. He joined as a walk-on last season, but head coach Jay Norvell said he will earn a scholarship heading into this upcoming season. He will likely hold the second or third spot on the depth chart heading into fall.

Hamish McClure:

McClure is the only quarterback on the roster who is a walk-on. He is the son of former Nevada offensive line coach and current California offensive line coach Angus McClure. The lone game he appeared in was versus Oregon, completing all three of his pass attempts for 20 yards. He will compete for the backup role in spring.

Any new faces?

Nate Cox:

Cox is a transfer from Garden City Community College in Garden City, Kan. He is 6-foot-9, so he is one of the tallest quarterbacks in college football. He walked on at Louisiana Tech in 2018, appearing in just seven games before transferring to Garden City C.C. He is hoping to compete with Bennett and McClure for the backup quarterback spot in spring.

My Thoughts:

This group struggled last season. Nationally, the trio of Solano, Henry and Strong placed No. 111 among the different quarterback combos last season according to Pro Football Focus. It seemed, at least in the beginning of the season, never knowing which quarterback was going to start or be on the field in a given drive. Part of that was due to Strong’s injury, but also uncertainty because no one had the job grappled until the middle of the season. There is more of a grapple who will Nevada will run out there this time along. Barring any injury, Strong has the starting job secured. I expect this group to be more consistent this year than last and I am intrigued to see how he develops heading into year two.