By JOHN SHINN
NORMAN — After three games, Oklahoma seemingly has its quarterback. It might have taken two tries, but the coaching staff has seen what it needs to see from Blake Bell to give him the starting job for the Sept. 28 game at No. 21 Notre Dame.
Now that means they have to start tailoring the offense around his strengths. What that means for the quarterback run game the Sooners spent seven months installing is the great unknown.
Bell has the job because he threw accurate passes all over the field. The 413-yard passing performance and four touchdowns in OU’s 51-20 victory over Tulsa earned him Big 12 offensive player of the week honors on Monday.
What Bell showed against Tulsa, and what may truly separate him from Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson, is the ability to stand in the pocket and deliver the ball.
“Those guys are very quick and elusive. Blake, though, is stronger,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “Someone grabs him, he can run through arm tackles and someone’s bumping into him in the pocket, he can stand up to it and still be able to get his balance, deliver the ball. So those things are to his advantage. See over linemen, see over pressure. Those things help him, definitely.”
But OU’s had quarterbacks who could do that for 15 years. It’s always been able to throw the ball from the pocket.
What happens to OU’s running game with Bell at the helm?
Stoops says nothing changes. Despite the passing success Bell will still have to occasionally run the ball.
“As we’ve gone through the entire spring and summer, there isn’t an offense for one guy and an offense for another guy. They all have done the same things,” he said.
There are elements of it that Bell has to be better at than others. OU didn’t run as many bootlegs against Tulsa as it did the first two games.
Makes sense for two reasons. Bell is mobile, but he looked extremely comfortable in the pocket. He’s also very comfortable running between the tackles. It’s what he did in the short-yardage package the previous two seasons.
Bell doesn’t believe the offense went off in a different direction Saturday.
“I don’t think there was really that much. You know, coach Heupel and the coaching staff did a great job of just preparing and gave us plays that they thought we could execute and execute well,” Bell said. “Other than that, we’re just doing what we do.”
Maybe the only difference between OU’s offense against Tulsa and the one against Louisiana-Monroe and West Virginia was Bell completed 72.9 percent (27 for 37) of his passes. Knight was 21 for 48 in his two games.
Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel insists OU wants to remain versatile this season. There has been laborious emphasis on running the ball this season. Offensive linemen bulked up and a deep pool of running backs has been assembled. Bell’s performance in his first career starts doesn’t change the offensive plan.
“Two weeks from now when we go South Bend, we’re going to have to be able to run the football,” Heupel said. Be better at it than we were today (against Tulsa) and be a lot better than we were at it a year ago.”