By JOHN SHINN
When Oklahoma named Trevor Knight its starting quarterback Aug. 22, it was a shot in the gut to junior Blake Bell. He’s spent two seasons as a touchdown machine in OU’s short-yardage offense and an offseason as the presumptive next-in-line for the job.
Anyone in that position had to go through the crushing emotions of being passed over. Still, the disapointment was something Bell kept to himself.
“He’s a mature guy. He knows that was always a possibility,” said OU fullback Trey Millard, who is also Bell’s roommate. “But he didn’t necessarily quit or do anything like that. He’s definitely continued to work hard and continued to prepare like he could potentially go in. He had that opportunity and he has that opportunity again.”
Bell will be the 14th-ranked Sooners’ quarterback when they face Tulsa (1-1) at 11 a.m. today. It is a game that offers the opportunity to reboot the offense.
OU (2-0) has run the ball better than expected. It averaged 5.8 yards per carry in wins over Louisiana-Monroe and West Virginia. Granted, the Sooners will face better defenses this season. Still, the running game has thus far offered OU reliability.
What it has also provided are vast play-action opportunities for big plays in the passing game. Knight struggled to deliver them. Bell will be asked take advantage today.
It’s not huge passing numbers the Sooners will demand he delivers. Right now, OU will settle for a quarterback who is efficient and smart.
OU coach Bob Stoops went out of his way to say it was two second-half interceptions against West Virginia that forced Knight to be removed from the game in the second half. The fact Knight suffered a bruised knee made the decision to start Bell today academic.
OU only averaged 4.5 yards per passing attempt in its first two games. And Knight’s completion percentage of 43.8 percent (21-for-48) makes the passing game struggles clear.
Bell’s job is to throw smart passes that move the chains. Most importantly, he has to avoid the mistakes Knight did not.
Teammates believe Bell will do what is asked. The one thing Bell has that Knight and Kendal Thompson, who will be Bell’s backup today, don’t is the experience of playing in big games and big situations. He scored 24 touchdowns in 2011 and 2012 and that means something.
“Blake will be fine. 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,” running back Brennan Clay said. “So Blake is going to be a great guy for us this week. He’s going to help lead this offense.”
Still, Bell has attempted just 26 passes during his career and completed just 13. This season, he’s 3 for 6.
Today, Bell’s playing time will not be limited to a quarter, a series or a snap. He has the opportunity to run the entire offense throughout the game. Whether or not today will be Bell’s chance to lock up the job for good remains a mystery.
“You’re playing the what-if game and we’re a long ways away from that,” Heupel said. “Let’s just keep going till Saturday and you can ask that question after the game.”
There may not be an answer then either. But Bell understood three weeks ago this opportunity could come around. He’s waited patiently for it and his moment has arrived.