Just prior to the 80th Sugar Bowl played on Thursday night, Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops refused to name his starting quarterback. When the game started, freshman Trevor Knight was lined up under center, and he did absolutely nothing to disappoint.
Knight, who completed a total of 47 passes before Thursday night, threw for a Sugar Bowl-record 32 completions for 348 yards and four touchdowns as the 11th-ranked Sooners defeated the Alabama Crimson Tide, 45-31.
It’s safe to say that Oklahoma beat Alabama at its own game. Taking a page from the Crimson Tide playbook, the Sooners were easily the toughest team on the field at the Mercedez-Benz Superdome. Oklahoma continually used their muscle to beat an Alabama team that clearly has more talent, yet couldn’t put it together over its final two games of the season.
And Knight was definitely part of the solution for the Sooners. Looking nothing like a wide-eyed youngster playing in his first bowl game, Knight systematically ripped through the vaunted Crimson Tide defense. Two of his touchdowns were for more than 40 yards, and he ended his night being the best quarterback on the field, despite going up against senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy runner-up finisher A.J. McCarron.
McCarron himself threw for 387 yards, and it was the first time in Sugar Bowl history that two quarterbacks threw for at least 300 yards. But McCarron also threw two costly interceptions that led to 14 points for the Sooners.
"Put it all on me. I had two turnovers, (Oklahoma) ended up scoring 14 points and we lost by 14," McCarron said. "It's football. It happens. I wish it wouldn't have happened, but I'll definitely take the loss and definitely take the blame, because a lot of it is probably my fault."
McCarron shouldn’t beat himself up too much. After all, he directed Alabama to two consecutive national championships and compiled a record of 36-4 as a starter. His legacy as one of the best quarterbacks in Crimson Tide history is sealed.
This was simply Knight’s night to shine. Blake Bell had gotten more snaps under center as the quarterback for Oklahoma this season, and was the driving force behind the Sooners’ upset win over Oklahoma State earlier in the season.
But Stoops decided on Knight, who actually won the job outright coming out of fall camp but faltered at times during the season. In fact, he was benched after the first two games of the season, struggling mightily against a far lesser opponent in University of Louisiana-Monroe. During that game, Knight was just 11-for-28 for only 86 yards.
He’s certainly come a long way in just four months, and Stoops obviously went with his gut in making the final-second decision to insert Knight as the starter. Now, Oklahoma can head into next season knowing they have a quarterback who can thrive under pressure and save his best for the biggest times.
Now that Knight has tasted victory in a big game, he wants more.
"It's huge for our program, to get a win like this after no one gave us a chance all year," Knight said. "We've got to ride this into next year. We can't settle with this. ... We want the big one."
Knight had once been favorably compared to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. In fact, in last year’s practices leading up to the Cotton Bowl in which Knight’s Sooners were facing Manziel’s Aggies, Knight was given the job of impersonating Manziel.
Knight certainly looked Manziel-like on Thursday night, and the Sooners couldn’t be happier with the progress he’s shown throughout the season. Now, Knight will head into next season giving his Sooners a bright outlook.