Tahlequah Daily Press

September 11, 2013

Knight out, Bell in as OU’s QB


— NORMAN — Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops didn’t wait long to make the change all who watched the Sooners’ 16-7 victory over West Virginia knew was coming. Blake Bell will be No. 14 OU’s starting quarterback when it faces Tulsa at 11 a.m. Saturday at Owen Field.

There were two reasons for the decision: Trevor Knight, who started the first two games, suffered a bruised right knee late in the second quarter against West Virginia. He continued to play for another quarter, but the injury will keep him off the depth chart for the Tulsa game. Running back Brennan Clay also said Monday that Knight took a shot on his throwing elbow early in the game.

But Stoops said Knight’s health wasn’t the sole reason. Bell, who was inserted in the fourth quarter against the Mountaineers Saturday and engineered a field-goal drive and set OU up for another, is getting his shot at running the offense.

“When we made the switch, regardless of what reasonings, things just weren’t going as well as we felt they should have,” Stoops said Monday afternoon at his weekly press conference. “So, we wanted to give Blake an opportunity.”

The Sooners (2-0) must come up with a more efficient passing game. Through eight quarters, they’re just 24 of 54 for 243 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions.

Bell is only responsible for three completions and has attempted six passes dating back to the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe.

Knight only averaged 4.27 yards per attempt in his two starts. The Sooners have only finished a season averaging less the 7.24 yards per attempt. Three were during Bob Stoops’ 15 seasons as head coach, but they have never averaged less than 5.93 yards during that span.

The previous low was in 2001. The major difference is that team lacked the ability to run the ball like the current version.

But above all else, OU will be asking Bell not to make mistakes. Stoops said he knew Knight was at least dealing with discomfort at halftime Saturday night, but OU’s medical staff cleared him to continue playing.

What ultimately forced the quarterback change wasn’t physical, it was three key mental mistakes Knight made in the third quarter. Two ended in red zone interceptions by West Virginia. Another, Knight’s first throw of the second half, was in the hands of a Mountaineer defender but dropped.

They’re mistakes OU’s coaching staff hopes Bell won’t make. If he does another change could quickly come. Sophomore Kendal Thompson returned to practice Monday. He’ll be the backup for the Tulsa game. If Bell struggles, he could be the guy by the Sept. 28 showdown at Notre Dame.

“We’ll see today at practice. I’m sure there’s some rust,” Stoops said. “Last week he was throwing, so I’m sure his arm will be in great condition. It’ll just be getting back the movement and running around. Kendal’s an excellent athlete. I expect him to knock off that rust off through the week and catch up pretty fast.”

The prognosis for Knight’s injury is one-to-two weeks. OU could have a three-quarterback competition as it heads into the off-week prior to the Notre Dame game.

For now, the job belongs to Bell. The junior, who has scored 24 touchdowns over the previous two seasons, finally gets his chance to  run the gambit of OU’s offense.

His teammates have faith he can do it.

“Blake will be fine,” Clay said. “He’s going to assume that role. Blake has been in that position before. He’s always in the toughest position out there. He’s always been in the game when it’s on the line and he always comes out on top. So Blake is going to be a great guy for us this week. He’s going to help lead this offense.”

How long that continues is strictly up to Bell. Stoops said Monday he has no policy on players losing starting jobs due to injuries. A player with a three-year track record probably wouldn’t. One that hasn’t played very much could very well if a better option emerges.

It’s clear OU wants to see if Bell is better before moving onto something else.