By JOHN SHINN
NORMAN — Practice lasted a little longer for Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell on Tuesday. After the whistle blew most of the team headed for the locker room, Bell and a couple of receivers stayed for some extra work.
“I was staying out there with Jalen (Saunders) tonight and getting some extra deep routes,” Bell said. “It was something we needed to work on and something that will help us. I’m still learning some stuff and I know other guys are still learning. Once we put it all together, we’ll be all right.”
In that sense, it’s been chemistry week with Bell and his receivers as the 18th-ranked Sooners (5-1, 2-1 Big 12) prepare to face Kansas (2-3, 0-2) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Lawrence, Kan.
Something has clearly been awry in the last two games. The Sooners have scored just three offensive touchdowns against TCU and Texas. Bell has thrown for 285 yards — combined — in those two games.
Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard, OU’s top receivers, have made just 13 catches for 85 yards and Shepard didn’t have a catch against the Longhorns.
Co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said it’s the same process former receiver Ryan Broyles and former quarterback Landry Jones went through in 2009.
“That kind of chemistry comes from playing in games and making big plays so when guys make a big play in a game and they get confidence in one another, then that’s when it grows,” Norvell said. “The combination of Broyles and Landry Jones — those kids played so much football together in so many big games, there was so much confidence between the two of them. That just doesn’t happen. It happens from playing and throwing balls and making big plays on third down and having a guy you can trust. We’re building that. We’ve got new quarterbacks and we’ve got some new kids playing so that’s something that we need to establish in games and as we play through the rest of this Big 12, I think we’ll find that kind of chemistry.”
But it gets tougher when trying to find it in conference games. It’s a copy-cat league in that whatever works in slowing an offense is not going away. TCU had a lot of success flustering the Sooners with tight, man-to-man coverage. Texas threw a lot more at the Sooners last Saturday. Surely, Kansas will do the same Saturday.
Bell and his receivers must figure out a way to beat it.
“If a team’s doing something that’s working then the next team — they might not do all of it, but they’ll sprinkle in stuff like that,” Bell said. “You have to be ready for stuff like that.”
The chemistry Bell is able to build with his receivers will ultimately decide how effective OU’s passing game will be this season.
OU has faith it will turn around. Bell threw for 645 yards and six touchdowns in his first two starts against Tulsa and Notre Dame.
OU isn’t ready to hit the panic button over the last two games.
“We’ve had six games and there’s a good part of it against some good teams that was really good. Some of it has been challenging, but some of it has still been good,” OU coach Bob Stoops said.