By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
NORMAN, Okla – Educating quarterbacks is challenging. Study hall and class rooms (film sessions and practices) are far different than tests (games). It’s the difference between playing a video game in the den and experiencing real life situations.
The only way to learn is to play, the only way to gain experience is to take your exams under pressure. The grading scale includes a stadium full of screaming fans, the probing lenses of two dozen television cameras and 11 defenders intent on expressing their intense dislike on every offensive snap.
Trevor Knight remains an unknown commodity (during last Saturday’s season opener he was twice referred to as “Travis”). A redshirt freshman, Knight made his second start in his first Big 12 Conference game. He’s replacing Landry Jones, a four-year starter who applied White Out to most of Oklahoma’s passing records.
Knight won the job because of his practice performance in August, beating out junior Blake Bell. Study film until your eyes glaze, take all the reps you want against your own team … there is no substitute for game experience. Gaining that experience often comes via mistakes. Seeing a coverage on film is totally different than throwing against the coverage on the field.
“It’s like anybody who hasn’t played a lot, it’s not easy,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.
“There is nothing that experience,” said offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, who led OU to the 2000 national championship in his second season with the Sooners. “The mistakes Trevor made, he can’t make. He’ll see that when we look at the film and he’ll learn.”
The education of the Sooners’ quarterbacks continues. And now, there’s the wrinkle that coaches dread and the media savor – a quarterback controversy (apparently). Because on OU’s final series of Saturday night’s 16-7 victory over West Virginia, Bell was at QB.
“You can say what you want,” Stoops said with those words pointed at the media. “I’m not gonna say. That (the starting quarterback) will be something we’ll discuss. … We want to throw and throw it well. It ought to be easier than it’s been.”
For the first time since 1997, Oklahoma has had back-to-back games rushing for 300-plus yards. In two victories, the 16th-ranked Sooners are averaging 5.3 yards per carry.
“We’re getting back to that old Oklahoma, smash mouth football, I think it’s good to establish the run,” said senior Brennan Clay, who led the way with 170 yards on 22 carries. “As a running back, I’m loving it. Our passing game is a little shaky but we’ve got young quarterbacks. I think both of ‘em can play.”
Knight and Bell combined for 10 completions in 21 attempts for 119 yards and one touchdown. Knight had two interceptions in the third quarter which prompted the Sooners to go to the bullpen.
When Bell came off the field after directing the Sooners to Michael Hunnicutt’s third field goal for the game’s final points, Knight was the first player off the bench to greet him. And Knight was applauding when Bell took the field for the first time in 2013 on OU’s first series of the fourth quarter.
“Trevor’s disappointed with how he played but he’s handling it well,” Heupel said. “He was upbeat and positive after the game.”
Oklahoma scored 10 points thanks to mistakes by the Mountaineers’ special teams. A fumbled punt set up OU’s only TD and a roughing the kicker penalty kept a drive alive that led to a field goal.
With opportunities to put the game away in the third quarter, Knight twice threw interceptions. Both drives were built around feats of Clay – 92 yards rushing on just three attempts. Knight’s first pick came on a first-and-goal at the four.
In the first half, Knight was sacked from the blind side and fumbled.
“That wasn’t his fault,” Stoops said. “Trevor wanted to throw the fade and the wide receiver just stood there, never got off the line. Earlier, he had a guy wide open on a skinny post, hit him and our receiver tripped and fell. Those guys (receivers) didn’t play well.”
The same can’t be said of Oklahoma’s defense. The Sooners have allowed seven points thus far and a total of 553 yards (4.3 yards per play). West Virginia’s only touchdown came on a 75-yard touchdown run by Dreamius Smith midway through the first quarter. After allowing a school-record 778 yards to the Mountaineers last season, Smith’s tackle-breaking, turn-on-the-jets scamper was part flashback, part nightmare.
“You guys probably thought they were going to get another 800 yards on us," said OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops.
OU’s offense bailed out the defense in last season’s 50-49 victory. Scoring 99 points is easier when you’ve got two senior quarterbacks (Jones and Geno Smith). The teams combined for 13 touchdowns and four turnovers last season, eight turnovers and two touchdowns Saturday night.
What Oklahoma is experiencing at will be standard operating procedure for several of the Big 12 teams breaking in new quarterbacks.
West Virginia’s Paul Millard was 21-of-41 for 218 yards. The junior, making his second career start and first on the road, misfired on a third-down throw that resulted in a three-and-out and set up Oklahoma for a drive that ended the first half with a crucial field goal. He also threw into coverage for an interception that cancelled one of Knight’s picks.
“We just didn’t make plays,” he said. “I felt like we left a lot of stuff out there so this loss is hard to swallow.”
Two of Oklahoma’s turnovers came in the first half in West Virginia territory. Both times the Sooners forced a three-and-out. After Knights’ third-quarter interceptions, the Sooners responded with an interception and a fumble recovery – both by Gabe Lynn.
“It’s exciting the way the defense is playing,” Bob Stoops said. “We ran it really well, it was pretty strong, over five yards per carry. We weren’t as good as we could be in the throwing game.”
That’s all part of the learning process.