Three games into their mutual reclamation efforts, quarterback Trevor Knight and the Texas A&M football program have meshed into a nice fit. At least for the September short haul.
The Aggies (3-0), unranked in the preseason, have climbed to No. 10 in this week’s Associated Press poll on the strength of victories over name-brand opponents UCLA (2-1) and Auburn (1-2). Knight, a graduate transfer from Oklahoma, has been effective enough to place 16th among FBS players in total offense (327 yards per game) while limiting turnovers and letting a much-improved Aggies defense handle the heavy lifting.
That’s a fresh approach for A&M under fifth-year coach/offensive guru Kevin Sumlin. But it’s working for all parties heading into Saturday’s game against No. 17 Arkansas (3-0) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Despite a meager 52.9 completion rate that places Knight among the bottom half of FBS quarterbacks in passing efficiency with a 122 rating (No. 77), the fifth-year senior has made the telling throws. He’s completed at least 20 passes in each game, including five for touchdowns, and ranks third among SEC players in passing yards (276.7 per game). He’s thrown only two interceptions, the issue that cost him his starting job at Oklahoma.
52.9 Trevor Knight’s completion percentage through his first three starts at Texas A&M, where the team has fashioned a 3-0 record and climbed to No. 10 in this week’s AP college football poll.
The lingering question: Can Knight, a renowned risk-taker with a gunslinger mentality, continue dialing it down in pressure situations and help Sumlin win enough games to return as the Aggies’ coach next season?
Three of A&M’s next four games are against ranked SEC opponents, starting with Arkansas and concluding with an Oct. 22 game at No. 1 Alabama. That figures to be the defining stretch of the season for Sumlin, who has been ranked among the nation’s most embattled coaches by CoachesHotSeat.com since he lost two five-star quarterbacks as transfers to other programs in December.
Sumlin held the No. 1 spot on the embattled list throughout the off-season but dropped to No. 16 after last week’s 29-16 victory over Auburn. Ironically, the top spot now belongs to Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.
I can be a lot better with footwork in the pocket. Being calmer back there, stepping up in the pocket and delivering the ball downfield. I’ve got one go-around at it. I’ve got to make the most of it. Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight, a graduate transfer from Oklahoma
But the pressure to produce remains on Knight, who seeks to resurrect dreams about his NFL future after losing his starting job to Baker Mayfield last season at OU. During this week’s news conference in College Station, Knight acknowledged he “can still be a whole lot better in a whole lot of areas” than he has shown in his first three starts at A&M.
At the top of his list: decision-making.
“I’ve made the plays I needed to make for us to get the ‘W.’ I just need to eliminate the bad plays so we can play better football,” Knight said.
That is where A&M offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone is focused as he seeks to shape his quarterback as a pocket passer. Mazzone loves Knight’s athleticism, which has resulted in the quarterback rushing for 151 yards and three touchdowns while taking only one sack in three games.
But Knight’s high-water mark for completion percentage is 56 percent against Prairie View A&M, an FCS school. It dropped to 50 percent in last week’s SEC opener and better defenses than Auburn’s loom on A&M’s schedule.
“I don’t want an athlete that’s playing quarterback. I want a quarterback that’s athletic,” Mazzone said. “That’s what we’re trying to become. Be a quarterback first, and the rest is icing on the cake.”
Mazzone acknowledged there are times Knight needs to remain in the pocket and does not. Helping him recognize those moments “is what we’re trying to work on with him right now,” Mazzone said.
I don’t want an athlete that’s playing quarterback. I want a quarterback that’s athletic. That’s what we’re trying to become. Be a quarterback first, and the rest is icing on the cake. Texas A&M offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, regarding QB Trevor Knight
As a leader, Knight has off-the-charts people skills. He’s earned praise in that department from teammates and Sumlin since arriving on campus in January. His running skills are an asset to the offense. But Mazzone acknowledged he would embrace a few more sacks if it translated to Knight completing more timely downfield throws.
“If a guy is getting sacked in the pocket, he’s truly focused on his job,” Mazzone said. “That’s going to happen to good quarterbacks. Guys that are always looking at the rush, those are guys getting caught running out of the pocket.”
The bottom line shows Knight with a 14-4 mark as a starting quarterback for Oklahoma and A&M. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema described Knight as a talented player who has “won on the big stage” at two schools. But Knight acknowledged he needs to elevate his game for A&M to become an SEC contender this season.
“I can be a lot better with footwork in the pocket,” Knight said. “Being calmer back there, stepping up in the pocket and delivering the ball downfield. I’ve got one go-around at it. I’ve got to make the most of it.”
Texas A&M vs. Arkansas
8 p.m. Saturday, ESPN