Knight gets 1st start in almost 2 years against No. 16 UCLA
HOUSTON >> Star sophomore quarterback Josh Rosen is expected to get most of the attention when No. 16 UCLA opens its season Saturday at noisy Kyle Field against Texas A&M.
Aggies QB Trevor Knight will be enjoying the spotlight, too.
Knight will make his debut in his first start since Dec. 29, 2014. He joined the Aggies as a graduate transfer in January after spending most of 2015 on the bench at Oklahoma after losing the job he held for most of 2014 to Baker Mayfield. He was certainly welcome in College Station since the Aggies were left scrambling for a starter after the abrupt transfers of both Kyler Murray and Kyle Allen in December.
Knight impressed coach Kevin Sumlin quickly and was named the team's quarterback during spring drills.
And it wasn't just his work on the field that wowed Sumlin. The rapport Knight built with his teammates was equally important.
"That's a special skill set for guys to come in and do that," Sumlin said. "Created friendships in a short period of time with guys in his room. If there's one thing you never really know in recruiting process is how a guy will gel with everyone else. You can help that but really don't know how it will happen. That really helped his growth and helped team's growth and offense's growth."
Sumlin isn't worried about the pressure bothering Knight. He played in several big games for the Sooners in 2014 when he started 10 games and threw for 2,300 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Knight should be helped by a solid group of receivers led by speedy sophomore Christian Kirk, who had 80 receptions for 1,009 yards a year ago. The Aggies also have Josh Reynolds. He led the Southeastern Conference by averaging 17.8 yards a catch and finished with 907 yards receiving in 2015. The third member of this heralded receiving corps and the biggest target is 6-foot-5, 240-pound Ricky Seals-Jones.
Some things to know about UCLA and Texas A&M's first meeting since 1998:
NOEL'S NEW TEAM
The Bruins will see a familiar face on the opposite sideline in offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. The 59-year-old spent 2012-15 in the same role for UCLA before joining the Aggies this offseason. Mazzone said he hasn't changed a lot from his days with the Bruins, but noted that he also knows their defense very well. That leaves him wondering if either side will have the upper hand in this situation.
"At end of day, plays are plays and schemes are schemes," he said. "Kids have to make plays. Don't worry about things that much. Going to be a good football game. On flip side I've gone against their defense last four years. Advantage? Disadvantage? I don't know."
The Bruins have been great on the road recently, having won 14 of their last 17 games away from the Rose Bowl. They've also won nine of their last 11 Pac-12 road games. Coach Jim Mora loves how his team responds to the adversity of playing away from home and is eager to see how his guys deal with a crowd that will likely top 100,000.
"The odds are stacked here," Mora said. "This is going to be tough, but this is when our true character is going to reveal itself. I think these guys really embrace that."
NATION'S BEST PASS RUSHING TANDEM
Rosen threw for 3,668 yards with 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions as a freshman last season and many believe the Bruins will be in the thick of the Pac-12 race despite an up-and-down, 8-5 season last year. He and the offensive line will face one of the nation's better pass-rushing tandems in Texas A&M's Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall. Garrett led the Southeastern Conference with 121/2 sacks and five forced fumbles last season. Hall added 141/2 tackles for losses.
Mora has gotten creative this week in practice to prepare for Garrett, having the scout team player tasked with mimicking the defensive end line up offside to "get that extra jump."
"I don't think you can go into any game saying, 'Hey, we're going to run away from these guys,"' Mora said. "First of all you'd have nowhere to run. But you have to be cognizant of where they are and what their capabilities are and you have to have answers if they become as disruptive as they're capable of becoming."
While dealing with Garrett will certainly require a team effort, UCLA left tackle Conor McDermott will lead the way in trying to slow him down. Like Garrett, McDermott is projected to be a high draft pick next year, and this game will be his chance to show off in front of a national audience. McDermott started the last seven games of 2014 at left tackle before starting 12 games last season on a team that allowed just 14 sacks, which was the second-fewest in school history.
"He hasn't played a ton still," Mora said. "It's not like he's gotten a whole lot of snaps under his belt because he's had some injury issues throughout his career. But he's just very mature, he's very calm. He's an excellent leader."
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