MANHATTAN — Blake Bell is a gifted athlete who comes from a Wichita football family. He can run fast, throw far and is on track to become Oklahoma’s next starting quarterback.
Collin Klein is a gifted athlete who comes from a religious family. He didn’t start playing organized football until high school, but he has become one of the toughest college quarterbacks around. He can break tackles, is completing 72 percent of his passes and has entered the Heisman Trophy race by guiding Kansas State to a 13-3 record as a full-time starter.
Though few would confuse Klein and Bell away from the football field, their physical attributes, bodies and playing styles mirror each other.
So much so, that Bell has a special formation named after him because of Klein.
“Collin is a big guy that can run,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said this week. “Blake can run well. He does a good job, too. There’s a fair amount of similarities.”
Stoops first noticed them when he began studying the Wildcats before last season’s game in Manhattan. He was impressed by the way Klein, a 6-foot-5, 226-pound senior handled himself as a runner, especially near the goal line, on his way to 27 touchdowns and more than 1,000 yards as a junior.
“He’s big and physical. You’re not going to arm tackle him,” Stoops said of Klein. “So if you don’t have a big, square shot on him you’re not going to tackle him. He’s got good speed. He’s very effective. It takes you awhile to track him down, if you can.”
Sounds a lot like Bell, a 6-foot-6, 254-pound sophomore who formerly starred at Bishop Carroll.
So Stoops asked to Bell to copy Klein and run a few plays as a short-yardage specialist in practices. When he showed promise, Stoops decided to use Bell against the Wildcats, knowing that his strong arm and ability to throw on the run would prevent their defense from focusing solely on his running skills.
He found the end zone on his first series and played in the remainder of Oklahoma’s games, finishing with 171 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns and being named MVP of the Insight Bowl. Just like that, the “Belldozer” was born. The formation, in which Bell usually takes snaps out of the shotgun and charges straight ahead but sometimes throws, was an immediate success.
“When the quarterback runs the ball, they normally have enough people to block your people,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “That is the nature of the quarterback run game and always has been for the 20-some-odd years that we have utilized it. It is an advantage in regards to numbers. If you hand the ball off to your running back and the quarterback is not accounted, you are really playing with 10 guys and they have 11, so they out-number you.
“If your quarterback can run the ball, then you add one to yourself, so you got enough to block their people and that is the advantage of it. When you take a guy like Blake or Collin who is big, strong, and physical, that is advantageous.”
Oklahoma surprised K-State last season by using Bell in the first quarter. The Wildcats will be prepared for Bell when they meet on Saturday at Oklahoma’s Memorial Stadium, but that doesn’t mean defending him will be easy. It will be as difficult as stopping Klein.
Bell has rushed for 15 yards and thrown for 61 yards this season. He might be asked to do more with the formation on Saturday while the man who inspired it watches from the sideline.
Klein has spent most of his time studying Oklahoma’s defense this week, so he doesn’t know the intricate details about its offense when Bell is in at quarterback. But he is flattered that Stoops modeled a formation after him with a similar quarterback.
“That is one thing they added to their package offensively,” Klein said. “We all do that. We all find things that work and little nuances and try to integrate them. That’s the game of football.”