Trevor Knight never thought he’d end up being a transfer.
He was set at Oklahoma, had a career game against Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl, became a team captain and went on to earn his degree. In that context, he’d had a successful career, but when he left the Sooners, he did so in a very different manner compared to most of his teammates.
Knight went back to college, as in another one, as a graduate transfer to Texas A&M, where his football legacy will ultimately be defined this fall.
Thus, the quarterback who had lost his starting job will be leading the players who saw their 2015 season fall apart while working with a new coordinator who is back in that role with a Southeastern Conference team for a fourth time.
It’s either a recipe for disaster or another perfect blend that head coach Kevin Sumlin has put together while trying to recapture some of the offensive magic that the Aggies enjoyed during Johnny Manziel’s Heisman Trophy-winning season in 2012.
Knight believes it’s the latter.
“We’re putting ourselves into position to win a whole lot of ballgames,” the senior quarterback said.
With a talented receiving corps featuring Ricky Seals-Jones, Christian Kirk, Josh Reynolds and Damion Ratley, there’s a lot to like about these Aggies, who—with Noel Mazzone calling the plays—are hoping that Knight can sort of be the missing piece to the puzzle, like Jake Coker was for the Crimson Tide last season.
Whereas Coker transferred from Florida State, which is coached by former Nick Saban assistant coach Jimbo Fisher, Sumlin had been an Oklahoma assistant coach from 2003-07.
Granted, the Aggies have their own ways of doing things and Sumlin’s approach continues to evolve, but the familiarity helps.
“There’s a million spreads in this league,” Sumlin said. “You look at the amount of one-back football Alabama played last year with Lane [Kiffin]. It’s an incredibly different football team than they were three years ago.”
UCLA did something similar under Mazzone, with a read-option emphasis when Brett Hundley was the quarterback, but it went more spread under freshman Josh Rosen last year. He passed for 3,668 yards and 23 touchdowns with 11 interceptions, but the Bruins didn’t show much offensive improvement.
During Mazzone’s four years at UCLA it ranked nationally, in chronological order, 24th, 38th, 23rd and 28th in total offense. His previous coaching stops include a stint at Auburn (1999-2001) and two at Ole Miss (1995-98 and 2005).
“Noah Mazzone has a record of dealing with quarterbacks in a way that can present their strengths and not trying to fit a square peg in a round hole,” Sumlin said.
But even though Texas A&M might have the best corps of wide receivers in the nation—depending on who you ask, as Phil Steele’s 2016 College Football Preview had the Aggies second to the Crimson Tide in his position rankings—there are two crucial things that the Aggies must do to improve: Be a threat to run more and play at a faster tempo.
Although Sumlin’s Aggies are best known for attacking downfield, they had a pretty good balance last season with 505 carries compared to 482 passes last season. However, with opponents notching 37 sacks, the 2.85 allowed per game tied for 107th in the nation out of 127 teams.
With running back Tra Carson accumulating 1,165 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, Texas A&M’s ground game was 66th, putting it firmly in the bottom half of the SEC.
“We got to run the ball better,” Sumlin said. “Even though we had a 1,200-yard rusher, we’ve got to be able to run it a bit more when we need to run it.
“I know we have enough talent to maybe rotate some guys and get to substantial numbers there, and we’ve got to get better at stopping the run. That was a point of emphasis during spring. Fortunately, as a head coach that’s pretty easy to practice because those two units can beat the hell out of each other.”
While a starter has yet to emerge at running back, the exact opposite has occurred at quarterback with Knight—which is in sharp contrast to what happened last season. Instead of the quarterback competition between Kyle Allen and Kyler Murphy producing a clear winner, both ended up transferring.
“It was crazy,” Seals-Jones said. “It was difficult to handle.”
Having already asked for his release, Knight had already been in contact with Sumlin, who initially turned him down. The tone of their conversations changed dramatically almost overnight.
“He definitely wasn’t begging,” Knight said. “But he definitely saw a need for a quarterback.”
Regardless, it’s an all-or-nothing season for Knight, who despite being known for being inconsistent with the Sooners, got off to a good start in College Station and was named the starter at the end of spring practices.
Seals-Jones said the change in “leadership and confidence” was immediately noticeable, and the quarterback’s work ethic quickly started to rub off.
“I think I’m a great leader verbally,” Knight said. “So I continue to try and do that and bring in the guys along in it, in developing that culture. On the field, I think I do a really good job of making decisions as far as the run/pass game goes.”
That ties into playing at a crisp tempo, the kind that Sumlin covets. Anything the players can do to get the opposition off-balance would improve their chances.
“It’s a lot about speed, getting lined up before the defense does and gashing them,” Seals-Jones said.
So far, things seem to be coming together, and as Knight likes to say the stars aligned perfectly for him to land at Texas A&M, he’s now hoping for something similar on the field. It’s how he explains that Alabama win as a freshman, while he’s also well versed in what happens when things don’t click.
“When you battle injuries, when you lose your spot, things like that, it’s a confidence-killer,” Knight said. “Whether you feel that or not, subconsciously it’s still there.
“I will say that with the fresh start, I’ve gotten more confidence than I’ve ever had in my game.”
Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.
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Source: Bleacher Report -SEC Football