Nevada quarterback Nate Cox (16) sees some action against Air Force at Mackay Stadium in Reno on Nov. 19, 2021.

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Nevada to give WMU new look in Quick Lane Bowl

Nevada won eight games this season, but the team that will play Western Michigan in the Quick Lane Bowl at Detroit on Monday might be hard to recognize.

The Wolf Pack’s head coach, Jay Norvell, accepted the head coaching job at Colorado State. Oregon assistant Ken Wilson was named the head coach but he won’t be on the sideline for the bowl game. Interim head coach Vai Taua will run the team.

Furthermore, record-breaking quarterback Carson Strong, who set a Nevada single season mark with 36 touchdown passes, opted out to prepare for the NFL Draft.

“It was a really tough decision,” Strong told NevadaSportsNet.com. “I really wanted to play in the bowl game. But with all the craziness that’s been going on, it’s the best decision for me not to play in the bowl game.

“Unfortunately, my last game at Nevada has been played, and that’s kind of a tough pill to swallow,” he added. “As much as I’d like to go out there and win a bowl game with my teammates, it’s just not in the best interest for me, so I’m going to be declaring for the NFL Draft.”

Senior Nate Cox, who threw 20 passes this season, will likely get the nod in his place. The team’s second-leading receiver, tight end Cole Turner (62 receptions, 10 TDs) is also skipping the bowl game to preserve his draft status. Six of the Wolf Pack’s top seven receivers from this season won’t play in the game after leaving the program.

Nevada (8-4) finished fifth in the Mountain West Conference and defeated Colorado State 52-10 in its last game.

“We don’t want our hard work to go to waste,” linebacker Lawson Hall said. “We kind of internalized our motivation. We’re playing for each other, playing for the coaches that are still here and playing for the program in general. We want to show our hard work, and we can’t wait to do that.”

The Wolf Pack have won three of their last four bowl games, including a 38-27 win over Tulane in the Idaho Bowl last season.

The Broncos (7-5) have plenty of offensive punch, led by quarterback Kaleb Eleby, who has completed 63.8 percent of his passes for 3,115 yards, 21 touchdowns and five interceptions. Top target Skyy Moore had 91 catches for 1,256 yards and 10 touchdowns.

They also have a 1-2 punch at running back in Sean Tyler (1,004 yards, 9 TDs) and Michigan State transfer La’Darius Jefferson (836 yards, 10 TDs).

Western Michigan defeated Atlantic Coast Conference champion Pittsburgh 44-41 in September.

The upheaval in Nevada’s program has made bowl preparations a little more difficult for the Broncos.

“It forces you to the point where you just have to be ready to play because we really don’t know a ton about what we’re going to get,” coach Tim Lester said. “Are they still going to run the Air Raid? Are they going to run the ball a little bit more? Their defensive coordinator is at Washington State, so are they going to put some unique stuff in? We’re not going to chase ghosts.”

–Field Level Media

Sep 4, 2021; Berkeley, California, USA; Nevada Wolf Pack quarterback Carson Strong (12) on the sidelines awaiting his turn to take the field against the California Golden Bears during the first quarter at FTX Field at California Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Neville E. Guard-USA TODAY Sports

K-State defense preparing for Nevada star QB Carson Strong

Two teams with identical 2-0 records will square off Saturday afternoon in Manhattan, Kan., but they’ll be coming into the game with different mindsets.

Nevada is riding high after defeating California out of the Pac-12 on the road, then dominating Idaho State in its home opener. Kansas State, meanwhile, has defeated Stanford on a neutral field before surviving FCS opponent Southern Illinois.

Wildcats sixth-year senior quarterback Skylar Thompson left the game in the first quarter after suffering a non-contact knee injury. Thompson missed most of the 2020 campaign after suffering a separated shoulder in the third game of the season against Texas Tech.

“It’s tough,” head coach Chris Klieman said during the Big 12 football coaches teleconference Monday. “What he went through last year, when he went down, we all gasped, like, ‘Oh no, not again.’”

Klieman was encouraged that the injury may not be season-ending based on an MRI, the results of which he would not share. But his staff must now prepare sophomore Will Howard to step into the starting role. Howard stepped in as a true freshman during the Texas Tech game last year and struggled. Klieman is confident that he will respond.

“He learned so much last year,” Klieman said. “He wasn’t probably as ready as he wanted to be. But he had a full offseason. I know that he’s excited about the opportunity.”

Kansas State already relied on a solid running game and a stout defense, so those areas will have to come through again. Their running game is led by Deuce Vaughn, who has 244 yards and four touchdowns through two games. The Wildcats held the high-powered SIU offense to 276 yards.

Nevada quarterback Carson Strong threw for 312 yards and two touchdowns in the 22-17 victory over California. Strong threw for 381 yards and four touchdowns, completing 34 of 43 passes, against Idaho State.

“We like smart, accurate, passionate quarterbacks, and Carson has those qualities,” Nevada coach Jay Norvell said. “We’ve got quality receivers and really good backs. And we’ve got a veteran offensive line.”

Norvell knows that K-State will present a challenge, even without Thompson.

“It’s always tough,” he said. “You hate to see injuries. It’s hard for any team to lose its starter. But I don’t think it’s going to change what they do offensively. They’ll continue to stress the things they like to do, and we’re going to have to prepare for them.”

–Field Level Media