Saturday started as a disaster for Tyler Cox.
The 2014 Boise High graduate lost a fumbled handoff on his first drive during the College of Idaho’s Spring Game at Simplot Stadium. The defense picked off a deep pass hanging up in the gusty wind on his third drive. And Trevor Henderson made a diving interception in the flat to end Cox’s fifth drive, all before halftime.
But the redshirt sophomore flashed the arm and aptitude that make him the Yotes’ starting quarterback heading into fall camp when he faked a handoff in the fourth quarter, rolled left, reset his feet and hit Austin Diffey (Eagle High) in stride after a double move for an 83-yard touchdown.
“Coaches called the perfect play, a double move, and Diff ran a perfect route,” Cox deflected. “It was easy from there. I just had to get it to him.”
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Cox finished the day better than he started, completing 12-of-24 passes for 189 yards and leading the Yotes to touchdowns on two of his eight drives. But it’s his performance throughout spring practice that makes him the man to beat heading into fall camp.
He started the spring as the starting quarterback by default. With Teejay Gordon graduated, JJ Hyde (Vallivue High) limited to no-contact drills after a broken leg and AJ Martin leaving the program, Cox was the only QB on the roster to attempt a pass for the Yotes last year — even if it was just one he completed for 21 yards against Montana State Northern.
The walk-on quarterback had another advantage. Former Yotes offensive coordinator Tim Keane left for a job at UC Davis, leaving him on the ground floor as co-offensive coordinators Mike Cody and Mitch Dahlen rebuilt the playbook around a no-huddle, up-tempo style.
“I kept saying, ‘Tyler, you’ve got a great opportunity to be the guy and force us to have you be part of the rotation in the fall,’ ” College of Idaho coach Mike Moroski said. “And he did just that. He played really, really well.”
Moroski said when they recruited Cox they thought of him as a pocket passer. But he’s shown he can serve as a threat in the Yotes’ option game with a physical running style.
The 6-foot, 175-pounder ran for three TDs in a scrimmage last week and added a 2-yard TD run on fourth-and-goal in the second quarter Saturday. He finished the game with 38 yards on eight carries.
Cox know he has big shoes to fill for Gordon, the dynamic playmaker who carried the Yotes’ offense the past two years, racking up 5,387 yards of offense and 39 total TDs. But he said he learned a lot from Gordon.
“Sitting behind Teejay for two years and watching what he did really helps out — what kind of leader he is,” Cox said. “For me, it’s just trying to lead by example like he did and doing my job on every single play on and off the field.”
Moroski cautioned he’ll prepare three quarterbacks to play in fall camp, featuring different packages for each one. But with his experience and football IQ, Cox showed this spring he can handle the breadth of the Yotes’ playbook.
“Tyler should be the guy who knows it all. He’s that capable,” Moroski said. “That’s the niche that he’s made for himself.
“He’s the one who knows. He’s the experienced guy. He can run the whole show.”