MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

OU

September 14, 2013

Sooners’ QB could lock down the job

NORMAN – 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.

Oklahoma has dominated its series against in-state rival Tulsa through the years, especially lately, having won 11 of the last 12 matchups against the Golden Hurricane.

But Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship knows what it’s like to help take a team into a cathedral of college football and emerge a winner, which is what the Golden Hurricane did at Notre Dame in 2010. Results like that are why Blankenship believes Tulsa (1-1) has a chance to knock off No. 14 Oklahoma (2-0) when the teams meet Saturday.

Blankenship - in his third year as the Golden Hurricane’s head coach after four years as an assistant - said Tulsa players have assured him they are past the intimidation factor of playing at a major-conference foe.

“That’s one of the things you always deal with when you go into one of these kind of places,” he said. “We’ve been to Arkansas, we’ve been to Notre Dame, to Oklahoma - all those venues just since I’ve been here as a coach. Most of our players don’t see that as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. They see it as a great opportunity to play a first-class program and one that could certainly give us notoriety.”

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.

The Sooners are well aware that Tulsa - which won 11 games last season - is capable of challenging them.

“They’re a pretty good team,” Millard said. “They’re a team that’s going to definitely come in here and play hard. It’s a team with a lot of Oklahoma guys that are going to come back here and try and prove something. So we know that we’re going to get their best shot.”

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.”

– Murray Evans of the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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