NORMAN — The zone read didn’t go away completely for Oklahoma in a stunning 45-31 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl more than seven months ago.
But in that win, Trevor Knight’s performance with his arm — 347 yards and four touchdowns — overshadowed the bit of the quarterback option/run game that the Sooners showed.
With all the attention on Knight’s arm entering this season, the zone read will continue to be a big part of Oklahoma’s offense.
“It’s not something you run every play,” Sooners co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “It’s a changeup, and that threat is always there even if you don’t run it. That’s one of the biggest things with that part of our package is that it’s always something the defense has to concentrate on.”
There’s no doubt it gave Alabama plenty to focus on even if Knight ran for just 7 yards on five carries in that game — only one for more than 2 yards.
The Crimson Tide had been burned by mobile quarterbacks Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and Nick Marshall of Auburn earlier in the season.
After the way Knight and the Sooners adjusted by beating Alabama through the air, defenses figure to adjust and be more mindful of Knight’s arm, opening up the run game.
“From week to week it’ll always be different, but in most things we’ll do he’ll have the option to pull it once in awhile,” coach Bob Stoops said before turning his attention to another focus of OU’s quarterback run game this season: Keeping Knight healthy.
The zone read game left Knight battered a few times last season, helping contribute to the back and forth with him and Blake Bell as the starting quarterback.
“Hopefully he’ll get what’s there and avoid big collisions — you get out of bounds, slide, don’t be greedy,” Stoops said.
It was Knight’s feet, not his arm, that gave opponents fits last season when OU’s offense was successful.
He ran for more yards (103) than he passed for (86) in last season’s opener against Louisiana-Monroe. Even at the end of the season, he ran for nearly twice as many yards as he passed for before leaving the Bedlam game with an injury.
Sooners coaches are confident Knight’s arm will be more like what he showed in the Sugar Bowl but they also expect his ability to run — whether in the zone read or when plays break down — to be a big part of the offense.
“I think it adds a whole other dimension that people have to defend,” Norvell said. “We basically are running very much the same offense that we’ve always run. We’ve added that element and it just gives the defense something else to deal with. It’s hard. We put a lot of pressure on the perimeter players on the front line, the defensive ends, the SAM-backers.”
Knight has also had to work to develop chemistry with a new group of running backs with the zone read.
While Brennan Clay was the primary back when the Sooners used the package last season, it’ll likely be either Keith Ford, Alex Ross or Samaje Perine running it.
With a quick decision to be made after making the read, the timing between the quarterback and running back has to be on target in order for the package to work.
“You have to get the mesh point a certain way so the guys can clamp down on the ball,” Knight said. “That comes with repetition. There isn’t one guy who does it a whole lot better than the other one.”