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Dennehy defends QB Cox

LOGAN — Following Utah State's 31-23 Sun Belt Conference loss to North Texas Saturday, fans on a local radio station's post-game call-in show took potshots at Aggie quarterback Travis Cox and suggested he should be replaced by redshirt freshman Leon Jackson III.

Monday, Utah State coach Mick Dennehy defended his senior signal-caller, who has started 18 straight games.

"There's nobody that competes any harder, there's nobody that deserves to play any more, there's nobody that we have that gives us any better chance to win than Travis," Dennehy said. "We're not going to make a quarterback controversy of this."

Cox had the worst game of his college career in the loss to North Texas with four interceptions and a fumble on the goal line. At the same time, however, Dennehy said several dropped balls and other miscues led to Utah State's demise.

"It's a game in which one play was so huge it was unbelievable," Dennehy said. "I think everybody looks at our quarterback and has the tendency to point a finger. What they don't realize is that on three or four occasions after that he led us down the field."

After Cox was intercepted early in the third quarter, Jackson III was warming up on the sideline, but the Aggie defense got the ball back on the next play and Cox re-entered the game. He promptly marched the team down the field before fumbling, which resulted in a bizarre 100-yard return for a touchdown for the Mean Green.

"If he gets too hyped up and we feel like we need to calm him down, we may sit him for a while," Dennehy said.

With the loss the Aggies (2-4, 1-2) fell out of contention for the Sun Belt Conference championship, and some fans thought it would be wise to begin getting Jackson III ready right now for next season.

"This season is far from over," Dennehy said. "We have a lot of football left."

With five games left in the season, including Saturday's 11 a.m. (MDT) contest at Clemson of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Aggies have a realistic shot at finishing the year with a .500 record or better. The combined record of the five teams is 7-20.

"There are still things that we can accomplish that would be very satisfying in terms of working as hard as we can to get better," Dennehy said. "If we can do that we'll win games. I don't have any doubt about that."

Dennehy insists Cox is the player who will direct his team to that goal.

"Travis is very well respected among his teammates," Dennehy said. "Travis gives us our best chance to win football games."

Through six games, Cox has completed 103 of 185 passes for 1,228 yards with 13 interceptions and eight touchdowns. Jackson III, in limited action, has completed 7 of 12 passes for 111 yards with no interceptions or touchdowns.

SPEAKING OF JACKSON III: Jackson III, punting for the injured Ben Chaet last week, has three punts for an average of 54.7 yards. On nine punts, he is averaging 44.0 yards per punt, which would rank him tied for 15th in the nation if he met the 3.6 punts per game to qualify. Currently, Chaet is ranked 11th in the nation at 44.4 yards per kick.

Dennehy anticipates Chaet will be ready for Saturday's game at Clemson.

ROBINSON LEADS NATION: Freshman punt returner Kevin Robinson leads the nation in punt returns with an average of 36 yards per game. Saturday he had two returns for 114 yards and a touchdown before being ejected for receiving his second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of the game.

Robinson dove into the endzone on his 71-yard return and was immediately flagged. Dennehy didn't agree with the call.

"By the letter of the rule book diving into the endzone under some circumstances is an unsportsmanlike foul," Dennehy said. "In my personal opinion I don't think he was trying to show anyone up, he was trying to score. Unfortunately, they (the officials) saw it a little bit differently."

Robinson, who was tripped up at the 10 yard line and spun to avoid defenders, recalls the play: "I thought someone was behind me and I thought that (diving) was the best way for me to get in (the endzone)."

INJURY UPDATE: Dennehy said offensive lineman Pace Jorgensen will most likely miss the remainder of the season with an torn ACL.

Wide receiver/kick returner Rod McNeal tore cartilage in his ribcage and isn't expected to be ready this week.

Linebacker Jake Stewart (shoulder, slight concussion) will most likely be ready Saturday.

THOMAS MOVES UP: North Texas freshman running back Jamario Thomas, with his 256 yards against the Aggies, moved up from No. 10 in the nation to fifth with an average of 147.8 yards per game. Entering the game against the Aggies he was averaging 120 yards per game.

COOLEY UPDATE: Former Utah State tight end Chris Cooley has eight catches for 64 yards and two touchdowns for the Washington Redskins. His two TD catches are tied with Rod Gardner for the team lead.

Cooley was a third-round selection to Washington in the 2004 draft.


E-mail: jhinton@desnews.com