The passing game was an obvious point of emphasis for the Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday against Tulsa. Despite the rainy conditions and the overmatched opponent, offensive coordinator Josh Heupel was prepared to air it out against the Golden Hurricane.
The effort to continue to build the consistency of quarterback Trevor Knight was not in vain, and in the process, the Sooners saw just how much of a weapon receiver Sterling Shepard can be for this offense.
Knight finished the day 21-of-34 for 299 yards and two touchdowns as the Sooners rolled past the Golden Hurricane, 52-7.
The wet field and a constant rain made conditions seemingly unfavorable for a downfield passing attack, but Knight and the Sooners were constantly taking shots down the field, most of them toward Shepard, who had a massive game, catching eight passes for 177 yards and a touchdown. Shepard didn't come down with all of Knight's deep passes, but not all of that was his fault.
?The deep pass is something Knight needs to continue to improve. It's a necessity for a team that wants to run the ball the way the Sooners want to. Knight hit a few of them to Shepard—Shepard dropped one and probably should have had another—but overall, the consistency just wasn't there.
One pass in the first half stood out in particular. Shepard got behind the defense on a go route, but Knight's pass led him well out of bounds. It's a connection the pair will need to work on, because this tandem has the potential to be extremely dangerous this year.
Shepard has come a long way since his freshman year. Coming into this season, he was undoubtedly the Sooners' go-to receiver but through the first two games, it appears Shepard and Knight could be forming a connection similar to that between Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles, the NCAA's all-time leader in receptions.
Playing on the outside has opened up the field for Shepard—he's able to showcase his speed a bit more against defensive backs. On Saturday, Shepard was constantly finding space behind the Tulsa secondary and on the first play from scrimmage, took a shovel pass from Knight on a sweep and nearly outran the entire defense to the end zone.
As for Knight, besides the inconsistencies on the deep passes, the sophomore looked better and more poised than last week against Louisiana Tech. Although he threw passes to just five different receivers, his accuracy was improved and he looked more comfortable throwing on the move. He also ran for 35 yards and had an impressive 31-yard touchdown run on a draw play right up the middle of the TU defense.
It's easy to forget Knight is only a sophomore, thanks to some of the impressive performances he has had in his short career. But he still makes sophomore-like plays. At the end of the first half, Knight had several passes that just left everyone scratching their heads. No one expects him to be perfect, but it's easier to overlook those plays when they aren't costing the Sooners opportunities.
There are still improvements to be made, but in the middle of Saturday's shellacking, Knight and Shepard gave OU fans a glimpse of just how special their connection on the field could be.