Pop quiz: Name the only two active quarterbacks who have beaten Alabama in the past four years.
(Que "Jeopardy" music)
The answer: Chad Kelly and Trevor Knight.
Kelly was the easy one. In his first year at Ole Miss, he directed the Rebels to their best season since Archie Manning was on campus, but Knight might have taken a little while to guess.
Knight sauntered onto the college football scene all the way back in 2013, when Oklahoma walked over and ran past Alabama in the Sooners' 45-31 win over the Tide in the Sugar Bowl. Knight threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns as Oklahoma lit up the stat sheet for 429 yards in Nick Saban's home away from home, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Knight's OU career didn't exactly take off from there. He eventually lost his job to Baker Mayfield, but that game is one of the reasons Kevin Sumlin wanted him at Texas A&M this year.
"He's been in big games, and he's won them," Sumlin said with a smile. Sumlin didn't have to say "Alabama." His grin told you exactly which game he was talking about.
Then there's Kelly. The quarterback was dismissed from the Clemson program after clashes with coaches and later got into legal trouble before arriving in Oxford. Now, he's a record-setting quarterback who is 1-0 against Alabama and looking to become the first starting quarterback to beat a Nick Saban-coached Alabama team twice since LSU's Jarrett Lee/Jordan Jefferson combo did so in 2010-11.
How have these two gunslingers pulled off the daunting task of penetrating Alabama's defense?
Step 1: Spread things out
Although Alabama consistently owns one of the nation's best defenses, it has been susceptible to the spread over the years. Just ask Cam Newton, Tim Tebow, Cardale Jones, Nick Marshall and even Deshaun Watson. Ole Miss and Oklahoma ran spread offenses in their wins over the Tide, and Kelly said making Alabama's bigger front work left-to-right was immensely beneficial to the Rebels in their 43-37 win last season.
“You have to spread that team out because they are just too big and physical to give them a short field," Kelly said.
Step 2: Use play action to get downfield
Play-action passes from both quarterbacks doomed Alabama. According to research by ESPN Stats & Information, Knight went 6-of-8 for 120 yards and a touchdown, while Kelly was 7-of-13 for 119 yards and another touchdown. Neither threw an interception.
“It’s all numbers," Knight said. "If they’re gonna load the box up, you need to be able to throw the ball downfield. That’s when you allow your receivers to get open and make plays down the field, and then when they spread it out a little bit, you have to be able to be run the ball between the tackles."
Step 3: Find a mobile quarterback
Here's the thing: Kelly and Knight combined to run the ball just 13 times for 28 yards and one touchdown.
Technically, it isn't what these quarterbacks did past the line of scrimmage. It was the idea of what they could do. If you make a defense honest, you can exploit their weaknesses.
The ability to extend plays is what really made these guys effective. The zone-read wasn't exactly necessary, as, according to ESPN Stats & Info research, Knight went 1-of-2 for 9 yards on zone-read passes. However, the Sooners registered 53 of their 81 rushing yards on zone-read runs.
Kelly, on the other hand, completed both of his passes for 81 yards, including that controversial 73-yard touchdown to Cody Core. The key was getting Alabama's front to move around uncomfortably to constantly spy the quarterback. The more that line moved, the more space quarterbacks created to make plays.
“You need a guy who can move around, extend plays and be creative, instead of a guy who sits there and asks an O-line to block those guys for three hours," Sumlin said.
Step 4: Get passes to the outside, particularly the right side
Thanks to the ability to get outside the pocket, Kelly and Knight dominated Alabama on the outside and carved up the Tide's secondary on the right.
“Me and Laquon [Treadwell] knew we were going to get a lot of stuff over the top, so we worked on a lot of fade balls, a lot of dropping it into the zone," Kelly said. "We kept on doing it, and it paid off."
According to ESPN Stats & Info research, Kelly completed four of nine passes for 110 yards and a touchdown on throws outside the right numbers. Knight completed 13 of 16 passes for 183 yards and three touchdowns on the same passes. Neither threw an interception.
The two also combined for another 187 and two touchdowns with zero picks outside the left numbers. They accounted for 669 passing yards outside the hash marks while completing just two of six passes for 20 yards and the only interception (Knight) on passes between the hashes.
Again, the ability to get to the outside with both legs and passes greatly disrupted Alabama's defense.
“Providing a dual-threat type of player is certainly coming on as a good thing in football today," Knight said. "Obviously, as quarterback, you want to be a passer first, but the ability to extend plays and escape that rush is huge.”
Step 5: Find some luck
Hey, it's Bama. You're always going to need a little luck.
“I was gonna throw that ball out there either way," Kelly said.