The Arkansas State Red Wolves return a load of upper class players and none more important than second year starter Fredi Knighten. In 2014 he racked up over 3200 yards passing and 24 TDs with only 7 interceptions. Adding another 800 yards rushing and 11 TDS on the ground put him close to the rare category of a 3000 yard passing 1000 yard rushing season.
|Fredi Knighten||5'11, 189||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||0.7800||269||432||3277||24||7||62.3%||29||6.3%||6.7|
What makes Knighten so dangerous?
Versatility and the threat to run in any given situation. 1st down, 2nd and short, 3rd and long etc, Knighten has shown he is a threat to take off in scrambling situations and designed runs.
Knighten earned Sun Belt Offensive Player of the week after a near perfect performance against Georgia St, mid season but it was his performance against Tennessee that began his rise to the top.
On this play inside the Tennessee red zone the Red Wolves call a designed QB Draw that catches Tennessee off guard.
Looking at a 3x1 set Tennessee plays press man with a MLB free to spy the QB. There's not a real pass threat on this play as it was draw all the way. The RT sets up the end by giving him the outside opening up a lane for Knighten to score. This is the kind of play that drives a Defensive Coordinator crazy.
Here against Appalachian St. on 4th and goal the qb is not accounted for and scores easily.
Using his mobility and speed in these situations causes defenses to play less aggressive and opens up the running game.
How much does Knighten improve in 2015?
Tyler Jones, Kevin Ellison and Nick Arbuckle could all make a case as the top Sun Belt QB but it is Knighten's versatility that gives him the edge. After a year as the full time starter will he make progress or will teams have a better game plan to shut down this offense? Throwing the ball down field with accuracy is an area that Knighten will need to improve when teams take away his feet.
The weapons that the Red Wolves return allow them to take some pressure off Knighten and give him some easier throws like screens and quick swing passes. Being able to have all those reps in spring and fall camp as the starter will be huge and should show up right away in situations like the play below. Early in the season more complex schemes like this are tough on a first year starter but with Knightens experience this should be in the playbook right away.
At midfield the Red Wolves call what looks to be a simple play action pass. Further inspection shows that this 2 receiver route is actually a Run/Pass packaged play where Knighten has the option to hand off on the zone read, pull and keep, pull and hit his WR on the skinny post or if all else fails throw the screen to the WR. The lineman run block just like zone and as you can see push the limit of the 3 yards down field rule. This action confuses the linebacker and safety leaving the middle of the field undefended.
Limiting mistakes and taking care of the football.
A huge part of what makes this fast paced Arkansas State offense run is stretching the defense from sideline to sideline to open up running lanes between the tackles and play action passes over the middle. When teams send pressure like Toledo did Knighten must take care of the football and not take unnecessary sacks. This is an area that Knighten can improve on in 2015.
Opposing defensive coordinators are devising a gameplan to stuff him in the pocket and force those 3 and 5 step timing throws that he struggled with at times last season. No doubt Blake Anderson, and Walt Bell are looking at variations of the ways I outlined here to utilize his skill set to the fullest. His overall fundamentals are strong in footwork, release, balance and eye discipline. Just being patient and staying in the pocket when teams focus on his scrambling and picking them apart downfield will pay dividends.
Also keeping on track within the foundation of the offense and not going Johnny Manziel mode too often will lead to even more production. The more national exposure his team gets the more we will hear of the comparisons to Manziel. If Knighten comes out firing and breaking off some big runs with all those talented skill position players, his numbers could skyrocket, along with the media exposure and possibly a new nickname of "Freddie Football".