NORMAN, Okla.--Watching Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel give its defense fits made it clear that Oklahoma was missing an element in its offense.
The Sooners are banking on Trevor Knight to change that.
Knight, a redshirt freshman who was named starting quarterback last week, brings a running threat at the quarterback position that has been absent during the past three seasons. And that change is poised to transform the offense.
Knight’s skills should give the Sooners the ability to force defenses to account for every player on the field on running plays through various quarterback read-option style attacks. For the past three seasons opposing defenses had the numbers’ advantage on running plays with Landry Jones in the backfield.
This season, the Sooners’ new starter allows OU to even the numbers by making the defense account for Knight as a runner. OU can leave certain defenders unblocked with the knowledge that Knight will have to be accounted for by the defense or he can take advantage with his running skills. His running ability will open up running lanes, create passing lanes and give the Sooners’ skill players plenty of open field to operate this fall.
The Sooners’ defensive coaches know just how difficult that can be to defend. In their 45-38 loss to Baylor in 2011, Griffin accounted for 551 total yards and four touchdowns thanks in part to his 18 carries for 72 yards, which forced the Sooners to account for his running while opening passing lanes. The Cotton Bowl loss in January was very similar as Manziel accounted for 516 yards including 229 rushing yards. True enough, those are the back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners but it underscores the fact that a running threat at quarterback can change a game and make an offense more dangerous.
Yet don’t expect the Sooners to ignore the passing game. OU finished fifth nationally in passing offense at 336.46 yards per game in 2012 so it would be foolish for OU to abandon its aerial attack. A quarterback run game can be meshed with a quality passing attack -- teams like Oregon have been doing it for years.
The overlooked aspect of Knight’s rise up the depth chart is how the transforming offense could make early success much more attainable for the redshirt freshman.
Using quarterback run game to create an even number of blockers and defenders in the running game could lead to much more success on the ground, particularly with Damien Williams, Brennan Clay or even Roy Finch in the backfield. With more open lanes for its running backs, OU should improve its 4.83 yards per carry average.
Additional running success could limit the pressure on Knight to beat defenses with his arm. It will also force defenses to account for Knight’s feet even on passing downs, limiting their ability to come up with elaborate coverage schemes to confuse the inexperienced signal-caller.
Most importantly, if opposing defenses blitz the Sooners’ young passer, Knight’s mobility could change a bad play into a good one, particularly if offensive coordinator Josh Heupel encourages him to tuck the ball instead of forcing the ball into tight coverage.
All those aspects of a quarterback run game attack will make life easier on Knight as he tries to get used to the speed of the game and demands of running a college system. Bob Stoops’ decision to name Knight the starting quarterback didn’t change the offense, it would have transformed into more of a quarterback run game even with Blake Bell under center. It does, however, make Knight’s job easier and has the potential to make the Sooners’ offense even more explosive than it was in 2012.