NORMAN — Of the first six passes that Trevor Knight threw, more of them had a better chance of being intercepted than being completed.
His performance in Oklahoma’s spring game only improved slightly from there. He finished 5 of 14 for 53 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He looked more like a guy fighting for a job instead of getting Heisman hype.
When last the college football world saw the Oklahoma quarterback, he was carving up mighty Alabama. Saturday, the only way Knight could’ve carved up anything was if someone would’ve handed him a knife.
But take a deep breath, Sooner Nation. Knight will be fine. So will the Sooners.
“Today was certainly not his best day, not his best performance,” Sooner offensive coordinator Josh Heupel admitted. “Has he continued to make strides from the Sugar Bowl? Absolutely.”
We’ll have to take Heupel at his word since we have such a small window to evaluate, but there’s good reason to believe him. To believe that Knight has continued to build on the momentum of his Sugar Bowl magnificence. To believe that Saturday was the exception, not the rule.
For starters, Knight was playing with a ton of unproven playmakers Saturday. Receiver extraordinaire Sterling Shepard was sidelined by injury. Ditto for Durron Neal, the only other returning pass catcher who had more than a hundred yards last season.
The running back and fullback positions were equally thin on experience. No more Brennan Clay or Roy Finch or Trey Millard.
Heck, even the offensive line had a bunch of new faces with several veterans sidelined by injury.
But even if Knight had a bunch of experienced players around him, he’d have still been going against a defense that intimately knew every play that the offense ran Saturday. Sooner coach Bob Stoops said that in an intrasquad scrimmages like this, the defense always has something of an advantage because of how much it goes against the offense.
And when it’s a pretty good defense like this Sooner bunch is, that only adds to the level of difficulty.
“It’s not easy throwing it on Zack Sanchez … especially when he sees you every day, goes against you every day in pass skill, every day in team,” Stoops said. “All of a sudden, those receivers are squeezed.”
Some might point to Baker Mayfield and argue that he was able to pass it well against the Sooner defense. No doubt the Texas Tech transfer who’s ineligible next season had a great afternoon. He completed all nine passes that he threw. Looked sharp. Seemed confident.
But he wasn’t going against the first-team defense all the time like Knight was.
Knight was disadvantaged, too, by quarterback runs being whistled dead as soon as a defender touched them. His ability to scramble and freelance and make big plays with his feet is one of his biggest weapons. It puts every defense on its heels, but the Sooner defense didn’t have to worry about Knight running during the spring game.
“That changes maybe some plays,” Knight said, “but we’re pass oriented first, so we’ve got those plays first.”
Knight is underselling the impact of his feet — his scrambling helps the pass game immensely by keeping defenders guessing — but still, he wasn’t interested in using the scrambling restriction as an excuse for poor play. Same goes for the defense knowing the offense so well.
“The name of the game’s execution,” he said. “You’ve still got to execute. We’ve got to be sharper on those things.”
Knight knows he needs to be better when he next steps on Owen Field, and frankly, his unwillingness to use any excuses to explain his performance Saturday is a sign of maturity. High expectations. Lofty standards.
So that made his performance in the spring game a disappointment for him, too. He doesn’t want to play like he did in the Sugar Bowl. He wants to be better.
Was it a come down? Yes.
But cause for concern?
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 475-4125. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.