The former Oklahoma quarterback was a much-maligned figure during his final season in Norman yet his passing skills and ability to make the Sooners’ offense one of the nation’s best has been sorely missed during the first two weeks of the 2013 season.
Redshirt freshman Trevor Knight has shown signs he could eventually become a playmaker but he’s also left no doubt that he’s a redshirt freshman with minimal game experience. Blake Bell, who Knight beat out to start, has played in both games without making a major difference in the Sooners’ offensive fortunes.
With Knight injured and expected to miss Saturday’s game against Tulsa, Bell gets the opportunity to prove he can be the run-pass threat the Sooners coaching staff has insisted he can be.
No matter who ends up leading the Sooners through the bulk of its schedule this season, that quarterback will have to play at a much higher level if OU hopes to go undefeated.
Here’s a deeper look at why OU’s passing game has struggled during its wins over West Virginia and Louisiana-Monroe courtesy of ESPN Stats and information:
Knight is 21 of 48 for 203 yards, four touchdowns, three interceptions with two sacks. Of his 27 incompletions, 17 were simply off target throws, including eight overthrown passes. Five were defended, three were deflected at the line and two were dropped by the receiver. While coaches and teammates have praised his accuracy, we haven't seen it yet. He's made several good, accurate throws but he needs to be consistently accurate for OU's passing game to soar.
Knight hasn’t made teams pay for blitzing. The redshirt freshman is 6 of 14 for 63 yards when blitzed and has been sacked once.
Bell hasn’t been much better, he’s 3 of 6 for 38 yards in backup duty. Two of his incompletions were off target and one was dropped. Against the blitz, he’s 0 for 1 and has been sacked once. Bell's sample size is so small it's tough to draw any conclusions from his 2013 appearances. He'll get to prove himself against Tulsa.
One encouraging stat for Knight is his production on passes between 6 and 14 yards. He’s 9 of 11 for 112 yards and two touchdowns on passes of that distance. Seven of those completions resulted in first downs.
Yet his short passing accuracy, or lack thereof, is unsettling. Knight is 6 of 13 for 24 yards on passes behind the line and 5 of 10 for 35 yards, two touchdowns and one interception on passes of 0 to 5 yards. The Sooners have tried to get him going with easy throws but he's been unable to consistently connect on them.
Getting Jalen Saunders involved early and often would be one thing that could jumpstart the Sooners' passing attack. Last season Saunders led the Sooners in target percentage, catching 75.7 percent of balls thrown his way. This season that number has dropped to 41.2 percent. True enough the offense has changed and Saunders has lined up at outside receiver more often, but he has the ability to take a two-yard throw and turn it into a 75-yard touchdown. Creating easy throws to Saunders will help the quarterbacks' confidence and OU’s offense as a whole.
Those numbers have to be disturbing for Sooners fans but, realistically, the Sooners are 2-0 and off to a terrific start thanks to their running game, defense and special teams. OU’s horrible passing game has been the lone eyesore during a good start so correcting the mistakes and returning the offense to a balanced should be priority No. 1 in Norman.