NEW ORLEANS — Oklahoma coaches finally gave Trevor Knight the opportunity to throw the ball around Thursday night, and Knight rewarded that faith with pure excellence.
Knight threw for 348 yards, tossed four touchdown passes and led Oklahoma to a stunning 45-31 victory over No. 3 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
“He showed everybody what we've been seeing for a couple of years,” said OU coach Bob Stoops. “He has a chance to be really special.”
Knight’s performance earned him Sugar Bowl MVP honors.
Alabama has dominated college football the past five years, winning three national championships under coach Nick Saban. But the Crimson Tide defense has struggled of late against mobile quarterbacks, and Oklahoma coaches took full advantage of that weakness with Knight.
The redshirt freshman from San Antonio won Oklahoma's starting quarterback position out of fall camp, but struggled and was eventually replaced by Blake Bell after only two starts.
Even when Knight returned to the starting lineup Nov. 23 at Kansas State, he only attempted 20 passes, making his biggest impact on the game by running.
Against the Crimson Tide, Knight recorded just five rushes for 12 yards, but kept plays alive with his mobility.
“We pitched it around a lot more tonight, so just getting in that rhythm, making a few completions to get it going a little bit, got us in the rhythm of the game,” Knight said. “And then when stuff's working, you obviously get in that confidence mode. In that mode you feel like you can do anything.”
Oklahoma's first drive of the game ended when a Knight pass bounced off Jalen Saunders' hands and was intercepted by Alabama's Landon Collins, but the Sooner defense took the ball right back on the very next play.
Knight returned to the field, dropped back to pass and fired a 45-yard touchdown to Lacoltan Bester, the first of three touchdown passes in the first half that gave Oklahoma a 31-17 lead at the break.
The Alabama defense adjusted at halftime and forced the Sooners to punt on each of its third-quarter drives. Early in the fourth quarter, though, with Alabama threatening to come from behind and rip the Sooners' hearts out, Knight led a remarkable drive, capped when he escaped pressure on second down, spotted Sterling Shepard in the end zone and delivered a perfect strike for a 9-yard touchdown.
“Nothing breaks down with Trevor Knight,” Shepard said. “He was running around, making plays, throwing the ball. He had so many go-balls he put on the money.”
The buzz around Knight began last December during the Sooners' Cotton Bowl preparations, when he played the role of Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and wowed his coaches and teammates.
Oklahoma coaches always insisted that Knight could make all the throws necessary to lead the Sooner offense, but he rarely showed it on game days.
Thursday, though, Knight showcased the incredible skills that allowed him to win the starting quarterback job in the first place, and did it against what is regarded as the college football's best defense.
“The extra month of practice, he really got better,” said co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell. “That was a real credit to him and his work ethic. … He was playing at another level and our kids were staying up with him.”