When ESPN flashed the stats of the starting quarterbacks at the beginning of last night’s Sugar Bowl, it looked like a complete mismatch. Trevor Knight versus A.J. McCarron? No contest.
It turned out to be true: Oklahoma’s redshirt freshman signal caller smoked the Heisman Trophy runner-up and starting QB on the Crimson Tide’s back-to-back national championship squads.
McCarron (19-of-30, 387 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) got his, but he made the killer mistakes that would be expected from a callow rookie. In his fifth career start, Knight (32-of-44, 348 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT) played about as close to flawless football as possible in the national spotlight.
OU head honcho Bob Stoops dropped a stunner in August when he announced that Knight had unseated prohibitive favorite Blake Bell as QB1. Knight’s play in the first two games of the season left plenty in Sooner Nation questioning the decision. He was scattered at the line of scrimmage, screwing up in the read option and turning the ball over with alacrity.
Those having second thoughts included Bob Stoops himself. Knight got pulled late in a win over West Virginia in the second game of the year, and OU appeared content to ride out with Bell, who had struggles of his own in losses to Texas and Baylor and even in some of the Sooners’ wins. After a concussion sidelined Bell in the 10th game of the year against Iowa State, Knight got the ball back and didn’t let go.
Plenty of fans and pundits will look back at this season and ask why it took so long for Knight to get his second chance. (I thought halftime of the Red River Shootout would’ve been the right spot.) It’s easy to wonder what the season would’ve looked like with him behind center versus Texas and Baylor.
I can answer that: Not much different.
Early in the season, Knight played like an amped-up kid, which would be expected of a someone who was just that. He was committing the kinds of cardinal sins that gift wrap games for opponents. Teams would have taken advantage of those opportunities and put a couple Ls in OU’s ledger. (Furthermore, offensive coordinator Josh Heupel had his fair share of growing pains in terms of calling plays within the Sooners’ new read-option scheme.)
Yet, if you were paying attention throughout Knight’s early adventures, he showed flashes of what we saw late in the season – great arm strength, elusiveness in the open field and a sneaky good ability to throw on the run.
My main concern when Knight hit the pine early in the year was that he would lose out on the opportunity to work through his jitters and learn from the mistakes. Yes, it would have cost the Sooners some games. Still, Knight brought an explosive new dimension to the offense that Oklahoma hadn’t seen in years.
If last night’s performance was any indication, the lack of reps in the middle of the season did little to stunt Knight’s growth. On a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of my hopes for him when the year started, Knight was about a 37 against ‘Bama.
With the 2013 season now in the books, what was thought to be the biggest question facing OU going forward now has a pretty clear answer. The Sooners are trying to take back their spot back among the national elite, and Knight has been anointed as the quarterback they hope will lead them there.