, Muskogee, OK

August 25, 2013

OU: Different QB, new dimension

By John Shinn
CNHI News Service

— NORMAN — Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said there’s only been small tweaks made to the offense for this season.

“Not much different. You’ll see a bunch of the same formations and plays,” he said. “Not much at all really.”

Believe him if you want, but there will be a major contrast between the Sooners’ offense this season as opposed to previous years. The era of the mobile quarterback has finally arrived in Norman. Blake Bell and Trevor Knight add the athletic ability to expand the playbook and create a new emphasis on running the ball.

OU has made it to the season with the deepest stable of running backs it’s ever had during Stoops’ tenure. Damien Williams, Brennan Clay, Roy Finch and fullback Trey Millard are all seniors and have all offered big-play ability in the past.

The offensive line is a veteran group, which includes All-American center Gabe Ikard, that has beefed up in the offseason to become a more physical run-blocking unit. The Sooners claim a flock of talented receivers led by senior Jalen Saunders.

It’s a great time to be a Sooner quarterback.

Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel has been adamant in saying the ability to get the ball to those playmakers is the essential element the next quarterback must bring.

“For us to win a championship and play at the highest level, he’s going to have to win football games for us throwing the football,” he said. “We’re not going to give up anything; whether recruiting or whoever our guy is, we want him to be able to distribute the football.”

It may be the overriding factor in picking OU’s first new starting quarterback since 2009. But OU’s shift toward more athletically inclined quarterbacks began with the signing of Bell in 2010.

Every quarterback the Sooners have brought to campus since — Kendal Thompson in 2011, Knight in 2012 and Cody Thomas prior to this season — brings the ability to escape the pocket and extend plays at a minumum. At the maximum, they give the Sooners another running back on the field capable of rushing for a touchdown from anywhere on the field.

No coach is willing to say how often the next quarterback will run. Bell’s proven over the last two years that he can take a hit and deliver a blow, too, in the short-yardage package that’s allowed him to score 24 touchdowns the last two seasons.

Knight is regarded as one of OU’s best all-around athletes, but he’s never been on the field without wearing the “hands-off” blue jersey.

“It’s one of those things where those guys are going to make a lot of plays with their feet,” Ikard said. “Both are very gifted athletically and whenever Kendal can get back in the mix, he’s the same way, so (our job on the line), first and foremost, is to keep guys away from the quarterback … every once in a while, they’re going to make a play with their feet and it’s kind of convenient to have guys that can get away.”

The Sooners have seen over the last two seasons just what kind of havoc those kinds of quarterbacks can wreak. If they can also throw the ball at the level OU is accustomed to, all the makings are there for a prolific offense.

Knight or Bell will get to run into a situation with all the other pieces in place. Adjustments have been made to the offense to utilize their athletic ability.

“You look at the dimension it brings. You look at (Texas A&M quarterback) Johnny Manziel. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is cover everybody, and there he goes. When you have that dimension it can help you,” Stoops said. “But I think, too, we’ve got to be aware and smart about how often they’re hit and are they able to get the yards and get out of bounds and avoid that, too.”

How far it goes will be up to the coaching staff and the quarterback.