By John Shinn
NORMAN — It took 11 games, but Oklahoma enters Bedlam fully understanding who it is offensively. The identity crisis it faced in middle October and early November is over. Quarterback Trevor Knight provided that solace with his performance in the last two games.
Today, when the 18th-ranked Sooners (9-2, 6-2 Big 12) face No. 6 Oklahoma State (10-1, 7-1) at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, is Knight’s chance to show that not only is he OU quarterback of the present, but of the future, too.
“I do feel good about what we’ve done in the last two games in the way we’ve moved the football offensively,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “Especially building on two (weeks) ago when you go on the road against a good Kansas State team that’s been playing really well and execute like we did. Hopefully we can carry that over and improve a little more.”
And, as long as the offense keeps getting better under Knight, he’s bound to be the one running it.
Play well, and he enters the bowl game and the spring as the Sooners’ unquestioned starting quarterback. It’s a position that comes with perks. The main one is the development he’s bound to have simply by getting the work afforded a starter.
“Every time you get reps, things tend to slow down and you see things a little bit easier,” Knight said.
OU offensive coordinator Josh Heupel praises Knight because he used the time between his start against West Virginia and his start against Kansas State to improve.
That’s hard to do as a backup quarterback. Chances to run the offense are limited. It’s like studying for a test that you never know will come.
“It is tough just knowing that you’re not for sure going to be in, but you’ve got to have that strong mindset and that thick skin, knowing that you never know when that opportunity is going to arise,” Knight said. “You’ve got to find some stuff to be competitive in. When you do get those few reps in practice, make the most of them.”
He was ready when his number was called against Iowa State.
What OU has done since is fully embrace Knight’s physical attributes.
There was a thought back in August when the Sooners named Knight the starting quarterback, they picked an offense more than a quarterback. He was effective running the ball, but struggled throwing.
The difference — especially against Kansas State — was OU focused its game plan on what Knight did best — run the zone read and make decisive throws that don’t require a ton of reads.
It isn’t so much a matter of simplifying the offense as much as tailoring it to a quarterback’s strengths.
OU’s done that for every established starting quarterback it’s hard over the years. Finally, the offensive coahes found a way to do that with Knight.
It’s easy to look back now and wonder why this didn’t happen in September. OU hasn’t asked Knight to make the same throws in the last six quarters that it asked him to throw in early September.
The right choices might have have made a big difference now.
“You live with the circumstances that we were dealt,” Stoops said. “They were both dealt injuries that we had to deal with. It’s fair to say in each case, at different times, it makes you adjust offensively … One guy may do a little bit better than the other guy … It has been a challenge to manage it overall.”
It’s easy to say it wasn’t handled perfectly. One still wonders what OU’s offense would like now if it had fully adapted it to Knight in August instead of doing it out of necessity in November.
Nonetheless, the Sooners believe they have a quarterback and an offense for the present and the future.
It will be on display in Bedlam.