The key to the door of victory over Alabama in the Nick Saban era is out-of-this-world quarterback play. Not just a good quarterback playing as expected, but a good or great quarterback upping his play to great or legendary. One example is Johnny Football in 2012. Another is Trevor Knight for Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl following the 2013 season. Johnny Manziel became a legend following his performance in Tuscaloosa in 2012 and Knight put himself on the map when he morphed into Aaron Rodgers in that Sugar Bowl against Bama.

Johnny was a sangin' when he was basically sent home from Tuscaloosa with the Heisman Trophy and more attention than he could ever be capable of handling.
Johnny was a sangin’ when he was basically sent home from Tuscaloosa with the Heisman Trophy and more attention than he could ever be capable of handling.

The issue for Knight in this week’s 2:30 p.m. CT kickoff at Bryant-Denny Stadium is he has not repeated the success of the Sugar Bowl in 2014, 2015, or at any point this season.  To give credit where credit is due, Knight has improved each week and is a great leader that is a solidifying force that the Aggies have been missing since joining the SEC in 2012.

The numbers don’t lie when it comes to Trevor Knight’s play at quarterback and no one thus far has taken worse numbers into a battle with Alabama and left feeling better about themselves than they did entering the game. There may be two 400-yard passers against this season’s

Katy Perry's favorite quarterback looked like Aaron Rodgers against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Katy Perry’s favorite quarterback looked like Aaron Rodgers against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Crimson Tide, but that appears to be fool’s gold at this point. If Alabama loses Saturday, then those numbers mean something. Otherwise, it just looks like these teams with gaudy passing stats against Alabama’s defense are tacking on yards to the stat sheet after they already feel the game is out of hand.

In Chad Kelly’s 421-yard day, he threw the ball 41 times. He hit on big plays early in the game to take the 21-point lead before Alabama made the comeback. Kelly then closed the game with a fury of yards when Ole Miss was in a hurry-up offense trying to make a comeback of their own. Take nothing away from Kelly. He won in Tuscaloosa last year, so he’s never been shut down by Alabama.

Arkansas’ Austin Allen threw for 400 yards on 48 attempts. That’s an 8.33 yards per catch average. Again, Austin Allen proved he was as tough as many suspected and he made the plays that he could make. 400 yards is 400 yards, so let’s give credit to both quarterbacks without backpedaling too much.

Assuming Alabama doesn’t turn the ball over four times inside the red area, Trevor Knight will need to throw for 450 yards with one or less interception and at least 4 touchdowns.

Knight throwing for 450 yards and 4 touchdowns will be nothing short of a miracle. Obviously, Knight has made a ton of plays with his legs, but to think that he could run enough times to gain 100 yards rushing and not have a tattoo of Reuben Foster’s helmet on his chest is to wish bad things on Katie Perry’s favorite quarterback.

Oct 8, 2016; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Trevor Knight (8) celebrates after scoring the game winning touchdown during the second overtime against the Tennessee Volunteers at Kyle Field. The Aggies defeated the Volunteers 45-38 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 8, 2016; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Trevor Knight (8) celebrates after scoring the game winning touchdown during the second overtime against the Tennessee Volunteers at Kyle Field. The Aggies defeated the Volunteers 45-38 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

WHAT DO THE NUMBERS WANT TO TELL US?
Rather than me tell what should or could happen, allow me to show you the numbers and tell you where Knight’s 450 yards would need to happen.

  1. Look at Trevor Knight’s passing stats in the first half versus the second half. He is 76 of 135 for 933 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions in the first half and he is only 39 of 80 for 567 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. These numbers aren’t worse in the second half because Texas A&M was nursing a lead. Many of the Aggies wins have come in close games.
  2. Breaking this down by quarter tells an even bigger story. His best quarter is the second quarter, completing 39 of 69 passes for 548 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. His worst quarter by far is the final and most important quarter of the game. He has completed only 13 of 31 passes with one touchdown and no interceptions in the fourth quarter. For those keeping score of QB Rating at home, Knight has a 139.46 rating in the second quarter and an 87.00 rating in the fourth. In other words, when the game reaches the second half, Knight gets 52.46 points worse by the end of the game than where he was in the second quarter.
  3. Watch for Alabama to dare Knight to pass much of the day, especially on first down. Knight is 44 of 88 for 621 yards with two touchdowns, but he’s also thrown three of his interceptions on first down.
  4. It does appear Knight is better throwing the ball while his team is tied. He is 33 of 63 for 419 yards with three touchdowns and one interception, The 92-yard touchdown thrown against Arkansas that permanently moved momentum to A&M’s sideline came when the game was tied.
  5. When in the red area, Knight has five touchdowns to only one interception, but he’s completing only 16 of 33 passing (48.5 percent). Since five of those completions were touchdowns, I’m not sure that statistic really favors either team.

At the end of the day, Texas A&M is much improved and Kevin Sumlin is off the hot seat (for now). Things are much more stable in College Station with Knight under center and leading this team on the field. Knight is also a good guy on most all accounts and is a great guy to have as the face of your program.

These improvements won’t be enough Saturday in Tuscaloosa, but the most crucial game for Texas A&M in 2016 is not the game in Tuscaloosa, it will be the November 5th game in Starkville against Mississippi State. A&M has started strong the past three years, but have gone completely off the rails after losing the Alabama game.

Alabama cannot be A&M’s bowl game. It needs to be a big game that they either win or lose and from which they must immediately look forward once it is over. There is so much to play for in College Station even in a loss on Saturday. If the Aggies hope to figure out how to navigate the waters of high expectation after a win over Alabama, Trevor Knight best be ready to ice down a tired arm from throwing for so many yards. Otherwise, they just become one in a pile of victims for Nick Saban and the Tide.

Texas A&M Trevor Knight stats through Week 8 of 2016 college football season.
Texas A&M Trevor Knight stats through Week 8 of 2016 college football season.