On Thursday, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, as reported by OU's athletic site, Sooner Sports, laid to rest one of the week's most hotly discussed rumors, naming redshirt freshman Trevor Knight as his starting quarterback for the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe.
Heading into the fall, it seemed that junior quarterback Blake Bell—"The Belldozer"—would finally get his chance to shine for OU. Instead, the former short-yardage package player will be relegated to backup duties.
Knight represents a fundamental shift for the Sooners in quarterback play and approach on offense. After fielding offenses led by largely stationary signal-callers, such as Landry Jones and Sam Bradford, OU is looking to go the way of Baylor, Clemson and Texas A&M. The Sooners will be adding more athleticism to the position and more dynamism to the offense.
Instead of defined runners and passers or run plays and pass plays, Oklahoma is looking to operate with more blurred lines—pass plays that can become run plays and run plays that are also pass plays. The Sooners want to capitalize on the duality of the run and pass in much the same way so many other teams are doing.
Unlike going from wishbone to pro style or pro style to the read-option spread, the beauty of this transition is that Oklahoma is not dismantling its playbook and starting from scratch. Rather, the Sooners are merely augmenting existing plays and expanding the playbook to add more dynamic capabilities.
It must be noted that the potent passing attack that has characterized Sooners football for much of the BCS era will not disappear with Knight at the helm. The redshirt freshman can sling the ball around the yard, has a quick release and throws well both horizontally in the short game and vertically downfield.
Bell is a big athlete at quarterback. He works well in short-yardage situations and can force a defense to recognize the threat of the run. Yet, even with his athleticism, he does not bring the quick and shifty approach that Knight adds to the mix. While Bell offers athleticism through power, Knight offers athleticism through speed and agility.
That makes the inverted veer and zone read already in the playbook more deadly for Knight. No longer can defenses focus on stopping the quarterback from picking up a mere first down. With Knight's athleticism, opponents have to stop him from gashing them for big plays.
In addition, he not only offers the threat of a run, he also expands Oklahoma into the precision speed attack of the packaged play. We're not talking about the play action, like when we saw Jones fake the handoff and then go downfield.
Recently at Grantland, Chris Brown of SmartFootball took a look at the new form of packaged plays. At Your Best 11, Bleacher Report has also looked at the same principle in the collegiate game, most notably with the mobile quarterback, which Clemson has tended to use:
Out of a pretty standard formation, the back motions from the wide position to take his place in the backfield, looking at perhaps a zone read or jet sweep.
Clemson goes with the zone read, with the back going into the line and the quarterback possessing the give-or-keep option.
The defensive end (No. 95) crashes, so the quarterback keeps the ball and pushes to the outside on the run.
Then, as the safety and the linebacker converge to stop the run wide, the quarterback recognizes his third option on the play: the screen pass to the sideline.
When the receiver catches the pass, two blockers are out in front and two defenders have taken themselves out of the play.
Twenty yards later, it is a first down.
OU already has the play-action screen game in its playbook. Knight adds the possibility to be even more dynamic with the execution of plays. Unlike Jones, he does not offer a mere run or pass, with play action sprinkled in. Unlike Bell, he is not limited to short-yardage or power-based attacks.
Now, speed is the measure, and if offensive coordinator Josh Heupel can work with Knight's agility to expand the offense, the ground and pass attacks of the Sooners should become more potent.
While the move at quarterback has sent a ripple of excitement through the Sooners' faithful, the season still hinges on the same issue that existed prior to the quarterback move: the defense.
Knight could be the next Robert Griffin III mixed with Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton, but if Bob and Mike Stoops can't get the defense back up to an elite level, the Sooners will not return to championship form.
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