Are you ready for the understatement of the year? The Trevor Knight that we saw against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl wasn't anywhere close to the Trevor Knight that we saw at the beginning of the football season. Yup, there it is, out in the open. While it may be the, "duh" statement of the New Year, there are some significant principles to it. What we saw in the Super Dome on Thursday night wasn't just the result of a month of game planning, it was also the result of a young quarterback maturing, catching up to the speed of the game, and growing in confidence.
Gone from Trevor Knight is the one-dimensional quarterback tag. He is now a fully capable dual-threat guy who has elusive speed and can put the ball in tight spaces. However, it was his legs that first made him a threat and, in the end, it was his legs that set him up for his Sugar Bowl success.
His first touchdown pass of the night was a perfect strike to to Lacolton Bester but it was set up by the threat to run. Notice the play has Sterling Shepard coming in motion and Brennan Clay getting the play fake. With three different options to run the ball, and Knight's history as a runner, the Alabama linebackers froze and the defensive line had to play contain first and pass rush second. The result was Knight having plenty of time to make the throw, and what a great throw it was!
Knight was only credited for seven rushing yards (the one sack Alabama recorded against him kinda hurt the average) but he was a threat all game long and the Tide had to respect that. The coaching staff did him a solid by allowing him to throw short sideline passes while on the run because that built up his confidence and allowed him to have the best success he's had all season long at stretching the field. After his second touchdown pass of the night (an 8-yarder to Jalen Saunders) you could see the bounce in his steps and a little swagger in him.
Success breeds confidence and there was a ton of both on the field with Oklahoma's offense on Thursday night. The greatest improvement that Knight showed was recognition and touch. By that I mean that he was able to recognize the open receiver at the right time and put enough touch on the ball where they were as close to perfect as possible for the receivers to catch. The best example of all three of these things was the third touchdown pass of the night.
The play was set up by Bob Stoops making the decision to go for it on fourth and one. It was quite possibly the biggest play of the night because of the end result of the drive on the very next play. Brennan Clay powers forward for the first down and then Josh Heupel decides to take a shot down field since he had a confident quarterback and fresh set of downs at his disposal. Knight threw a 43-yard touchdown pass on the play (again it came on a play-action call) but most importantly he put the ball exactly on target where all Saunders had to do was run underneath it.
These are plays that we haven't seen called this season because, frankly, Oklahoma didn't have a guy who could execute them. Knight had shown some flashes at Kansas State but even so his scouting report going into the Sugar Bowl read, "injury prone, erratic passer, and skilled runner." That doesn't sound like a guy who could take the nation's second ranked scoring defense out behind the woodshed but that also wasn't the guy who showed up in New Orleans. To this we have to give Heupel and the offensive coaching staff their due credit for both prepping him for the game and bringing him along fundamentally. Take a second and look at the replay one more time and check out his mechanics. He's got the perfect throwing motion and perfect follow through on the pass, which is why the ball had such good touch on it. The coaches took a kid who was shaky in the passing game, but was dangerous on the run, and literally turned him into an unstoppable offensive weapon.
"It's very easy when you're not playing, sitting on the sideline, to put your head down. But that shows that our team, quarterback position and every position, that we just stayed the course. We kept battling every day at practice. So when it was our time to shine, we could go out and do that." - Trevor Knight
There was no greater evidence to the complete package of Trevor Knight than the final touchdown pass of the night. He uses his speed to roll and buy time. Keeps his eyes down field, where they should be, draws the defense with a pump-fake (Seriously, what the defense reaction to the fake. Four crimson jerseys come charging underneath, leaving room in the end zone for Shepard to get fee. ), and then throws another perfect strike.
Knight finished the game completing 32/44 passes for 348 yards and an Oklahoma bowl record four touchdown passes. It's more than enough to grade him out with an A+ for the game, but its also fair to say that he wasn't the only Sooner to deliver an outstanding offensive performance.
Running Backs: I know the future is bright with Keith Ford (3 carries/15 yards) but I'm sure going to miss Brennan Clay. His yards per carry averages wasn't great (2.6 YPC) but he had some tough runs in crucial situations that can't be overlooked and he caught seven passes out of the backfield giving him 24 touches for the game.
Receivers: Bester had the best game of his Sooner career, Saunders was a monster who backed up his trash talk with his play, and how can you not be excited about Sterling Shepard's future! The three combined for 243 receiving yards, and four touchdowns, on 18 receptions. Oh yeah, the Sooners also used tight ends as receiving threats in this game. That's right, I said tight ends. Brennan Green and Taylor McNamara each caught a pass.
Offensive Line: These guys had the task of going up against an Alabama defensive front that specializes in making life miserable for their opponents. They responded by pushing their bigger opponents around for most of the game.
How can you not give (A+) grades all around for Oklahoma's offensive performance in the Sugar Bowl? That includes the coaching staff as well.
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