By JOHN SHINN
NORMAN — About 15 minutes prior to Oklahoma’s game Saturday against Tulsa, there was a roar at Owen Field. Blake Bell had just been introduced as starting quarterback.
Whether it was acknowledgment of what the quarterback had done in the past or a hope for what he would do in the future isn’t known.
However, what he did once the game started guaranteed it won’t be the last ovation he receives. The Belldozer transformed into the Sooners’ quarterback in a 51-20 rout of the Golden Hurricane. When it was over the 6-foot-6, 252-pound Bell seemed even bigger.
“It was awesome. I had a great time, first of all, just getting out there and playing ball, there’s nothing better,” Bell said.
As far as debuts for OU quarterbacks, it’s hard to top Bell’s display. He threw for 413 yards and four touchdowns. Only Sam Bradford, who established the first-start bar with a 363-yard performance in the 2007 season opener, could still say he ran the Sooners’ offensive so efficiently and precisely in his first start.
The only question that lingered by Saturday afternoon was how Bell left preseason camp as the backup quarterback to Trevor Knight?
Neither OU coach Bob Stoops nor offensive coordinator Josh Heupel wanted to wrestle with that one. However, Stoops quickly said there’s no debate who will take the first snap when the Sooners face No. 21 Notre Dame Sept. 28.
“Well, that’s pretty obvious, yeah,” Stoops said when asked if Bell’s performance solidified his spot atop the depth chart. “So much for your controversy right now. You can’t deny what he just went out and did. I’m proud of him and excited for him.
“I think it also speaks to his character in that he was a guy that was ready for it. He never got down, never changed his attitude. He got his chance and took advantage of it.”
Bell also altered the trajectory of the Sooners’ offense. In the first two games, OU rushed for more than 300 yards in both. It struggled hitting open receivers. Its passing game was just a shell of its former self.
Bell corrected the issue, going 27-for-37. More importantly, he threw passes receivers could easily secure and then go to work.
“It was great. He came out and completed his first few passes and got comfortable,” OU wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. “Throughout the game … we threw for over 400 yards today. That just shows you that he was comfortable.”
Shepard was the biggest beneficiary of Bell’s cozy feeling. He set career highs with eight catches, 123 receiving yards and two touchdown grabs.
In all, Bell connected with 10 different receivers with five of his 27 completions going for more than 25 yards.
Tulsa (1-2) helped set that in motion. It had seen the Sooners play twice. Stopping the run was a priority. There was no hint Bell would be this effective throwing the ball.
The opening drive showed something different was coming. Bell fired a strike to Shepard to convert a third-and-6 and then hit him for another 18 yards. Bell showed his running ability hadn’t gone into hibernation with a tackle-breaking 11-yard run to convert a third-and-9. Four plays later OU was celebrating a Brennan Clay’s 4-yard touchdown run.
It was the drive Bell had waited years to lead. If there was any resentment from initially being passed over for the starting job, it was gone.
“I just went out there and played ball. I did nothing really too up or too down. I just played ball and acted like it’s another day at practice,” Bell said. “I had a fun time doing it. I felt like I was seeing my reads pretty well and my keys and just having fun with it.”
The Sooners (3-0) appeared to have fun. The prolific offense they’re used to having re-emerged. They piled 607 yards and amassed a 27-7 halftime lead by scoring on their first five offensive possessions (three touchdowns and two Michael Hunnicutt field goals.)
It continued throughout the second half. OU didn’t have a turnover and only punted once. The Sooners even rushed for 194 yards with running back Roy Finch, Clay and freshman Keith Ford combining for 163 yards.
Tulsa running back Trey Watts, who is the son of former OU quarterback J.C. Watts, rush for 60 yards and had five catches for 65 for 65. His 2-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter hinted the Sooners might have a hard time Saturday.
The Golden Hurricane, however, couldn’t keep pace. Bell and the Sooner offense were too good.
The game is going to be remembered as Bell’s coming out party. There’s a very tiny fraternity which could say its first start went as well as Bell’s. The group thins when you consider Bell spent the season’s first two week at No. 2 on the depth chart.
He wasn’t thinking about that Saturday.
“There’s been some ups and downs. Not getting to start, you know, everyone just said you’ve gotta be ready and that’s what I did,” he said. “I put my head down and went to work because you never know what’s gonna happen, and prepared every day like I could go in there at any time.”
Because of the way he played Saturday, he won’t be leaving any time soon.
Oklahoma football notebook: Sooners' secondary suffers injuries in loss to Tulsa
Oklahoma’s offense kicked into high gear Saturday, but its defense had a setback, giving up a season-high point total in the 51-20 victory.
Injuries piled up in the secondary. Cornerback Aaron Colvin didn’t play due to an injury he suffered against West Virginia. Safety Gabe Lynn missed the final 2 1/2 quarters after suffering an injury on a second-quarter interception return and cornerback Stanvon Taylor, who started in place of Colvin, also suffered an injury.
“Certainly, you lose a guy like Gabe (Lynn) and Aaron (Colvin), they really hold down the fort in the secondary. It was tough, but we got some young kids, some good experience,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said.
OU coach Bob Stoops said he expected all three to return to practice this week as the Sooners prepare to face No. 21 Notre Dame Sept. 28 in South Bend, Ind.
The defensive coordinator believes the practices need to be better the next two weeks.
“Just kind of lethargic throughout the week, and we kind of played that way,” Mike Stoops said. “I feel like they out-executed us on third down. That part was disappointing. I thought our kids played hard, just our execution wasn’t where it’s been.”
Where was Williams: Running back Damien Williams did not play and wasn’t on the sidelines Saturday. OU coach Bob Stoops said the senior was suspended for the game for “team matters.”
Stoops said Williams will return to practice this week.
It comes down to third down: The score and the passing numbers (413 yards) display how well Blake Bell played Saturday. Another was the Sooners’ performance on third down. They converted 12 of 16. In the first two games, they converted just 12 of 24 (35 percent).
“The O-line did a great job blocking for me. We had a pretty good game plans, some third-and-longs, some third-and-shorts,” Bell said. “Like I said, we didn’t get in too many third-and-longs. Third-and-shorts are pretty manageable for us. Just getting the ball in those playmakers’ hands, you know, as you can see, Roy Finch, Durron (Neal), Jaz (Reynolds), Shep (Sterling Shepard), they did a great job. I got the ball to them, getting some yards after catch.”
OU’s defense also struggled on third down. It allowed only 5 of 29 conversions in the first two games. Tulsa picked up first downs on 7 of 15.
Ford tough: With Williams absent freshman Keith Ford pounced on the opportunity. He rushed for 46 yards on seven carries and capped the scoring with a 3-yard touchdown run with 2:35 left in the game.
“He’s an explosive football player. He competes in a great way. Every single day he gets better,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “We’ve got a good stable of running backs, and we’re going to need all of those guys to go through the season. He’s a big part of that.”
Pep talk: Stoops, Heupel and receivers coach Jay Norvell had been critical of the receivers play in the first two games. There was dramatic improvement against the Golden Hurricane. The Sooners averaged 15.3 yards per completion and 10 different receivers caught passes.
“We had a talk with Coach Norvell on our play in the first two games. We realized that it wasn’t good enough so we knew that we had to come back out and show the crowd and everybody that we can be a passing offense like we’ve always been,” wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. “We proved that today.”