Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight has the chance to upset the No. 1 team in the country, with his Aggie team facing Alabama on Saturday in Tuscaloosa. This is no easy task.
However, Knight may have some extra confidence on Saturday because well, the graduate transfer has beaten Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide before. In the 2014 Sugar Bowl, Knight’s No. 11 Oklahoma upset No. 3 Alabama, 45-31.
Flash back to 2013. OU head coach Bob Stoops switched things up at quarterback throughout the season. Dual-threat Knight started in four games, and big runner Blake Bell started in the other eight.
OU got the Sugar Bowl bid after a 10-2 regular season and a second-place finish inside the Big 12. Alabama also earned a bid with just a lone loss on its schedule: the implausible Kick Six loss to Auburn.
Stoops went with Knight to start in the Sugar Bowl, and it paid off immensely. In the first half alone, Knight completed 18 of 24 pass attempts, racking up 206 yards and three touchdowns. His sole mistake, an interception on Oklahoma's first series, was nullified by an Alabama turnover. Two late touchdowns gave the Sooners a shocking, 31-17 halftime lead. It marked the first time since 2003 that the Crimson Tide had given up more than 30 points in one half.
The Tide defense woke up in the second half, holding the Sooners to 28 yards and four punts in the third quarter. OU’s defense gave up an Alabama touchdown in the third, but Knight was able to get things going in the fourth. He capped off a 92-yard touchdown drive by scrambling out of a busted pocket, out-smarting Bama defenders with a pump fake, and magically finding Sterling Shepard in the end zone to take a 38-24 lead.
Alabama managed to cut the Sooners’ lead to seven, but Knight and the OU offense ran the clock down to a minute on the Sooners’ final drive. An AJ McCarron fumble, returned for an OU touchdown, would seal the Sooners’ win.
Knight completed 73 percent of his passes and threw for 348 yards, along with four touchdowns and just one interception. His four touchdown passes marked the most in a bowl in OU history and tied for the most in Sugar Bowl history, along with Florida State’s Chris Weinke in 2000, Illinois’ Kurt Kittner in 2002, and Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly last season. Knight was also the third player in Sugar Bowl history to throw 3 TD passes in the first half.
“Trevor Knight, of course, was exceptional.” Stoops said after the win. “I think he showed the whole country what we've been watching for two years in our practices and our scrimmages and things like that, that the game has started to slow down for him where he's really starting to feel comfortable in what he can do when he is.”
However, Knight was unable to thrive in 2014 despite the high expectations. After battling injuries and throwing 12 interceptions that year, he lost the stating job to OU’s Baker Mayfield in 2015.
That opened the door for him at Texas A&M, where he transferred as a graduate.
“For me, I felt instantly comfortable at A&M.” Knight said in a piece he penned for Sports Illustrated in July. “I believe in the culture at A&M. I believe in the people here, and the direction Coach Sumlin is taking the program. The community here is really tight knit, and the football family wrapped its arms around me from the moment I arrived. I feel like I've already been here four years. I couldn't have asked for a better situation—and that's why I ran toward it.”
Knight became part of a unique group of quarterbacks to ever say they defeated a Saban-coached Crimson Tide team (we’ll exclude Saban’s first, a 7-6 year in 2007), which includes three Heisman Trophy winners (Tim Tebow, Johnny Manziel, and Cam Newton) and multiple national champions.
Saban addressed facing Knight for a second time during SEC Media Days this past July.
"He was very athletic and was very accurate throwing the ball," Saban said, via the Houston Chronicle. "I think he'll make a significant impact at A&M. He'll be a real challenge for us to contain, because he's a dual-threat kind of guy who's been an effective player, and has experience."
Almost all of the quarterbacks who have gotten the chance to beat Saban twice in a row — Tebow, Manziel, and Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly — lost in the second go-around. The exception: LSU’s Jarrett Lee/Jordan Jefferson combo, which Saban’s team beat in a BCS Championship re-rematch.
On a different team and a whole new offense under which he’s been thriving — he’s still not the most accurate passer, ranking 84th in the country in passer rating, but his legs have helped lead a drastically improved rushing attack that ranks No. 2 in the country in yards per carry after ranking No. 70 a year ago — Knight has a chance to break that trend.