, Muskogee, OK

September 8, 2013

Oklahoma anything but OK at quarterback

By John Shinn
CNHI News Service

— NORMAN – Oklahoma’s quarterback competition returns to square one today. OU coach Bob Stoops declined to say whether the depth chart will have the one who started (Trevor Knight) or the one who finished (Blake Bell) Saturday night’s 16-7 victory over the West Virginia at the top spot.

“That will be something as coaches that we need to talk through,” he said.

But what those discussions will really center on is what the 14th-ranked Sooners (2-0, 1-0 Big 12) need their quarterback to do.

Stoops did not seem like a coach whose team was struggling do to erratic quarterback play Saturday night. He was a lot closer to giddy after watching OU rush for over 300 yards for the second straight and a defense that’s given up seven points in two games.

“You rush the ball for 316 yards it’s pretty special; that’s really positive,” he said.

It’s something OU’s lacked the ability to do for years. The last time OU held consecutive teams to seven points or less was back-to-back shutouts over Idaho State and Tulsa in 2009.

The Sooners play host to Tulsa (1-1) at 11 a.m. Saturday. The quarterback that plays in that game will be that best compliments OU’s ability to run the ball and play defense.

OU want to throw the ball better and needs to be an elite team. It shouldn’t be as hard as Knight’s made it look in the first two games. Saturday night he was 10-for-20 for 119 yards. He threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to fullback Trey Millard in the second quarter, but ultimately lost the job due to two interceptions.

The first was on a first-and-goal early in the third quarter. Running backs Damien Williams and Brennan Clay had just carried OU 83 yards in just four plays. Knight had a run-pass option on first down. He chose to dump the ball in the back of the end zone, but it was picked by West Virginia linebacker Darwin Cook.

Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said after the game, the run play was there. Knight just didn’t take it. The second came on badly thrown play-action pass one possession later.

Knight’s struggles throwing the ball were a carry over from the season opener. Through two games, he has a 43.8 completion percentage (21 for 48) and touchdown-to-interception ratio of 4-to-3. His efficiency rating of 94.6 is last among the Big 12’s starting quarterback’s by 25 points.

However, it’s the turnovers OU can’t live without. Even settling for field goals changes the entire complexion of the fourth quarter.

OU would’ve had a two-possession lead throughout the second half. Instead, that didn’t come until Bell was inserted early in the fourth quarter.

Bell wasn’t asked to do much in the OU offense Saturday night. He was on the field for 17 plays. He threw one pass — a screen that was dropped by Clay – and ran the ball once for 10 yards.

But he put OU in position to for Michael Hunnicutt’s 32-yard field with 10:16 left that finally made it a two-possession game. He put Hunnicutt in place for another late in the fourth, but it was hooked off the left goal post.

Stoops said Bell’s two drives would be weighed heavily in deciding who starts against the Golden Hurricane. It will be an important decision. After seeing the way OU has run the ball and played defense through two games, there’s a strength they’re an efficient passer away from being formidable.

The way it’s playing in other areas should make it much easier than it’s looked. The days of teams playing safeties back and trying to limit the Sooners to short passes are over. They can expect to see a crowded line of scrimmage the rest of the season. That’s running offenses typically face. It should be the dream scenario for a quarterback.

“Do we need to run the football efficiently? Absolutely,” Heupel said. While you’re doing that, you should be really good at play-action pass in some of your one-on-one game because you’re dropping against the safeties in the box. We are going to need to throw it better, too.”

– John Shinn is a sports writer for the Norman Transcript