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CEDAR RAPIDS — Nevada’s football team has had a quarterback controversy of its own so far this season.
Cox played exclusively last week in a 55-41 home loss to FCS school Incarnate Word. First-year head coach Ken Wilson said postgame there was a reason he was the starter.
See if it sounds familiar, Hawkeyes fans.
“He practiced better during the week,” Wilson said. “It’s very simple in our program.”
Wilson said he treats every position that way. If you practice well, you’re going to get a chance to contribute, whether it’s as a starter or in some other form of playing time.
A sixth-year senior, Cox completed 22 of 43 passes for 302 yards and a pair of touchdowns, adding another TD rushing. Incarnate Word was good at providing a pass rush, which meant Cox played the entire game instead of Illingworth, a transfer from Oklahoma State.
“(Cox) has a little more escapability,” Wilson said. “Can move around a little better.”
Which is an interesting statement considering Cox is 6-foot-9.
The tallest quarterback in college football is a Lafayette, La., native who began his career at Louisiana Tech. He transferred after two years to Garden City Community College in Kansas, then moved on to Nevada, which was the only school to offer him a scholarship.
His first career start was in last year’s Quick Lane Bowl, a 52-24 loss to Western Michigan. That was necessitated by Carson Strong deciding to skip the bowl and enter the 2022 NFL Draft.
Strong ended up undrafted, secured $320,000 in guaranteed money to sign as a free agent with the Philadelphia Eagles but recently was waived. Cox decided to try one more year of college football and at Nevada, too.
The program had a rash of transfers in the offseason after head coach Jay Norvell, a former Iowa player, left to take the head coaching job at Mountain West Conference rival Colorado State.
“This is the school that recruited me,” Cox told Nevada Sportsnet. “This is the only school I've ever had an offer to in my life, so I was going to stick it out. (Some teammates), we made a pact of, 'This is what we've got. We're going to go out there and do it.'
“The (bowl) game didn't go how we liked, but it was my first college start, something I've dreamed about my whole life, and I just feel so much more comfortable after that game, even though I took a few hits, threw a pick at the end of the game. But that's all good for learning.”
Nevada didn’t list a starting quarterback on its depth chart for Saturday night’s game against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. It’s Illingworth OR Cox.
Wilson evened mentioned senior Jake Barlage at his Monday press conference.
“I wouldn’t be fair to Shane or Jake if we said now (Cox) is the quarterback,” Wilson said. “What’s the purpose of competition then? We feel like we’ve got good players, everybody has an opportunity to play. We give them that right, the opportunity to earn jobs every week.”
Nevada practiced Wednesday and Thursday inside at a convention center in Reno because of poor air quality due to wildfires in the region. The team did not practice at all Sunday and Monday and was outside Tuesday.
Nevada does not have an indoor football facility.
“Obviously it's not ideal,” Wilson said. “The mornings have been a lot better, and we're a morning practice team. I think we're going to be OK, but we monitor constantly and follow the NCAA guidelines with our training staff. We'll see how it goes with Mother Nature, but it's been fine so far.”
The team planned to fly to Iowa on Thursday afternoon, a day earlier than normal.
“Going out east and the time-zone change, we've gone a day earlier just getting them used to the time change and everything about moving and traveling to a game,” said Wilson, who has been an assistant at Washington State and Oregon. “We (Oregon) had to play at 11 a.m. at Ohio State last year. We took them a day early. It worked out good for us with the plan we had, so we've mirrored some of that plan to go back to the East Coast this time, or at least the Midwest."
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