'He's a tremendous football player': Despite defeat, Nevada QB Carson Strong earns K-State's respect

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Sep. 22—A day Carson Strong likely won't remember fondly is one those on the opposite sideline never will forget.

When Strong walked off the field with his Nevada teammates last week, they did so with their first loss of the season in tow, as Kansas State turned a 17-17 game entering the fourth quarter into a 38-17 rout by the time the final seconds ticked off the clock.

Strong's final numbers: a 67.5% completion rate (27 of 40) 262 yards, one touchdown, one interception.

Solid. Respectable. Just not the otherworldly numbers he's used to — or that are expected from a player projected, by many outlets, to possibly be the top overall pick in next year's NFL draft.

Last week marked the first time this season that Strong didn't throw for at least 300 yards and multiple touchdowns in a game. There only was one game last season in which he didn't toss at least two touchdowns — and in that contest, versus San Jose State, he wasn't picked off.

One has to go back to 2019, in just his fifth game as the Wolf Pack's starter, to find a stat line similar to last week: in a blowout, 31-3 loss at Wyoming, Strong threw for 247 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.

The numbers in the loss to the Wildcats don't come close to telling the whole story, though, especially as it pertains to a trio of high-level throws that left the hosts shaking their heads and tipping their caps.

The first came in the opening period.

Facing first-and-10 at its own 43-yard line, Strong faked an inside handoff and launched the ball downfield for his favorite target, Romeo Doubs. K-State's double coverage didn't trouble Strong. The signal-caller threw the ball over the top of the Wildcat defense — 50 yards in the air, easily — and into Doubs' hands to give the visitors first-and-goal at the 2-yard line.

"He made a couple good throws — really good throws — out there," K-State senior linebacker Cody Fletcher said. "He threw a 60-yard bomb on the money, so you've got to give him that."

Strong's next memorable dart occurred in the third quarter, on a down-and-distance that appeared insurmountable: Nevada had third-and-20 at its own 14-yard line. Strong received the snap, slid to his left and fired a rocket toward Doubs in the tiniest of windows — with three K-State defenders in the area.

Didn't matter.

Doubs hauled it in for a 23-yard reception and a fresh set of downs.

Strong's final notable throw doubled as the Wolf Pack's final score.

He threaded the ball between Wildcat defenders Julius Brents and Jahron McPherson for a 14-yard touchdown to Elijah Cooks with 4:08 remaining in the third quarter.

Afterward, K-State had nothing but praise for what they had just seen.

"He's a tremendous football player," head coach Chris Klieman said. "I've seen it. I saw him make some throws against Cal in the first week, and I saw him make some throws — you know, we were watching bowl games from 2019 and he's dropping dimes. This kid has played an awful lot of football and he's very confident."

Strong's counterpart, Will Howard, said Strong lived up to the hype.

"Everybody is saying he's a first-round guy. I believe it," Howard said. "He's a good football player, but credit to our defense. They took care of business and they shut him down when they needed to.

"But he did make quite a few good throws out there. I'll be watching him. He'll do good things in the future, for sure."

Cornerback Ekow Boye-Doe expects to see Strong playing on Sundays, too.

"Definitely, definitely," Boye-Doe said. "He made that first long, deep throw; I think it was about 60 yards in the air. I think he's definitely capable of being a talent in the NFL. He's that type of guy."

That the Wildcats held "that type of guy" relatively in check boosted the defense's confidence.

"It's always tough playing guys like (Strong), because he's played a lot of football," linebacker Daniel Green said. "He's seen a lot of different coverages, and he knows when he's seen something and where he can go with the ball. I feel like we played pretty well against a guy like him."

The game was the highlight of Tee Denson's career — at least to this point. The sophomore from Atlanta came up with the interception versus Strong in the second quarter. It marked the first pickoff of his time with the Wildcats.

That it came against the player who may be the first player off the board in the 2022 NFL draft made it that much sweeter.

"We knew he was a great quarterback, NFL talent. We knew we had to show him a lot of things and get into different looks and make him read things," Denson said. "He pretty much knew where he was going pre-snap, before the play even started. We knew he called the offense himself and (defensive coordinator) Coach (Joe) Klanderman dialed up some great calls. It worked out well for us."

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