Fredi Knighten's athleticism is a given. He proved that again during Arkansas State's 37-10 victory over Montana State by running for 93 yards and even catching a pass, which resulted in a 45-yard dash down the sideline.
What the jury is still out on is how well he can carry the team with his arm. We got a good look at that arm during ASU's opener when he attempted 29 passes and completed 19 of them for 219 yards and a touchdown.
Let's take a look at the throws he was asked to make.
Screens: 8-9 for 82 yards
The screen game did its job overall. It resulted in a few double-digit gains, with the most notable being J.D. McKissic's 43-yard scamper shortly before halftime. The play also gained three or four yards a few times as ASU attempted to supplement a run game that struggled a bit after Michael Gordon left the game.
The curious thing was that McKissic, even with being sidelined for part of the second half, only received one of these attempts. I fully expect more of these looks to go his way as ASU matches up against better competition.
Sidelines: 4-8 for 39 yards
This stat line is somewhat deceiving because three of the incompletions were throwaways. When Knighten actually attempted to keep the ball in play along the sideline, he was money four of the five times. Tres Houston was the beneficiary of those throws, doing a great job of creating space and catching all four of those completions.
The one that Knighten did miss, however, was a bad one. On fourth and one around midfield in the second quarter, Knighten rolled to the short-side of the field with Brandon Cox going into the flats and Darion Griswold coming across the middle. Knighten stared down Griswold too long and by the time he found Cox wide open, Cox had ran out of room and Knighten had nothing to do but throw incomplete.
Play-action: 3-4 for 63 yards
These are the plays that stood out to me the most; plays that will be the bread and butter of ASU's early-down passing attack. All four started with Knighten faking a handoff and then immediately turning his head to the middle of the field where a receiver was breaking open. Knighten stepped into his throw and delivered the deeper passes with power and confidence. This line would look even better had Brandon Byner not dropped a surefire touchdown after escaping the backfield on a fly and getting behind the linebacker responsible for him in coverage.
Swings: 2-3 for 7 yards
McKissic took a swing for six yards, but the most notable attempt was the one Knighten missed early on to Gordon. Gordon came across the backfield in motion and sprinted into the flat that the receivers had cleared out. Knighten led him too much up-field and guaranteed yardage as ASU approached the red zone went to waste.
Miscellaneous: 2-5 for 28 yards and a touchdown
This includes the rest of Knighten's attempts, most importantly his absolutely beautiful touchdown ball to Griswold. Now that I think about it, was that a play-action pass? The television crew was too busy showing us replays of Knighten's reception and we missed the start of the play.
The other positive throw in this group was the ball to Houston in the back of the end zone that probably should have been caught for a touchdown heading into half. On the negative side was Knighten's jump ball-throw to Carl Lee. He was under immense pressure, but I would have liked a safer decision with the ball.
At the end of the day, Knighten played well. He had a couple misthrows that a high-level collegiate quarterback simply should not make and his decision making process could be more crisp, but a lot of that will get straightened out with added experience.
Aside from his physical traits, his mental makeup looked outstanding. He never got down after bad plays. In fact, he bounced back with bullet throws. After he missed Gordon in the flats, Knighten turned around and fired a first down pass to Houston. After Byner dropped the fly, Knighten hit McKissic over the middle for 17-yards on the next play. It also speaks volumes that the coaching staff immediately put the ball back in his hands.
That said, next week's opponent, Tennessee, is not Montana State. Ask Utah State's Chuckie Keeton how tough that Volunteer defense can be this year. Knighten will need to make the plays he's supposed to and I also think the coaching staff will have to open up the offense and ask him to do more. If he can answer those calls, ASU has a chance at an upset.