After Blake Bell passed for 413 yards and four touchdowns against Tulsa on Saturday, I half-expected Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops to throw down his headset at midfield and exclaim to the heavens: “How in the world did we not pick this guy to be our starter two weeks ago?”
But Stoops is more reserved than that. Football is an analytical game and Stoops wasn’t about to second guess his initial decision to go with supposedly-elusive redshirt freshman Trevor Knight over the 6-foot-6, 252-pound, cut-from-quarterback-cloth Bell, from Wichita’s Bishop Carroll High.
With Knight nursing a sore knee, and a bruised ego after two mundane performances, Bell got his first chance to start Saturday. He’s been at OU since 2010 and claimed fame as the Belldozer, a hybrid who came on the field for short-yardage and goal-line plays and used his bulk to bowl over defenders. Perhaps that character will develop a summer movie franchise.
But the Belldozer has another disguise — the Bellringer. He passed for four touchdowns and missed a couple of opportunities inside the 20 that could have made his day even more special.
But it was special enough.
“It was awesome,’’ Bell said.
Stung by the August decision of Stoops and his offensive coaches to turn to Knight, a Johnny Football type but so far without Johnny Football results, Bell look down the road and saw a fork.
“You can either go backward or you can keep going forward,’’ said Bell, who said that message came in loud and clear from his father and uncle, Mark and Mike Bell, both of whom played in the NFL. “I wanted to keep going forward because you never know when your time is coming and you have to be ready. So I wanted to be ready.’’
Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard, one of Bell’s closest friends on the team, said Bell was devastated when he was told that Knight, who hadn’t taken a snap in a game for the Sooners, was going to be the starter for the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe.
“He was torn up,’’ Ikard said. “You want to be the guy. You want to be the starter and Blake worked very hard and competed throughout the entire year. But he handled himself like a veteran football player, like the leader he is for this football team. He was in a little funk for about 24 hours, but after that he realized he needed to be ready because you never know what is going to happen.’’
What happened is that Knight got hurt. He’s expected to be out for a few more days, Stoops said, but could return to practice next week in preparation for Oklahoma’s game at Notre Dame on Sept. 28.
Which, of course, begged the most obvious question out there. Who starts at quarterback in that one?
Bell, of course. Stoops didn’t hesitate when asked and seemed almost offended the question was blurted out.
“So much for your controversy right there,’’ Stoops said. “That didn’t last long, did it? You can’t deny what Blake just went out and did. I’m proud of him and excited for him. I think it also speaks to his character. He was ready for this. He never got down, never changed his attitude. He got his chance and he took great advantage of it.’’
Just makes you wonder what the coaches were seeing in the weeks leading up to the opener. Bell had been groomed as Landry Jones’ replacement, grinding through a redshirt season and two seasons of being the Belldozer. But it wasn’t until Saturday that Bell felt like a quarterback.
Tulsa isn’t going to be confused with a strong defensive team. The Golden Hurricane gave up 34 points to Bowling Green on Aug. 29 and another 27 in a three-point win over Colorado State.
Oklahoma rolled up 607 yards of offense, cutting through Tulsa from start to finish.
But would Knight have been as successful as Bell?
No. No way.
Knight struggled with accuracy in his starts against Monroe and West Virginia. And he wasn’t as dynamic on the ground as he was built up to be. He might go on to have a special career at Oklahoma, but there’s no question about Bell having the poise, leadership and ability to be the Sooners’ starter.
Stoops didn’t want to re-hash the decision-making process. Neither did co-offensive coordinator and QBs coach Josh Heupel. Or Bell, for that matter. All said they were planted firmly in the middle of September, not late August.
There was even some thought around Norman this week that a third quarterback, sophomore Kendal Thompson, should be in the quarterback discussion. Thompson suffered a fracture to his right foot during a practice in early August and just returned to practice last week.
After so much stability during the Sam Bradford and Landry Jones era, the quarterback position has been all over the map.
Saturday, though, Bell made a stake. He was better than anyone could have expected. He stood tall in the pocket, made his reads and delivered a bunch of strikes. He completed 27 of 37 attempts without an interception. It was the most yards ever for an Oklahoma quarterback making his debut as a starter.
And it felt so good.
“I don’t think I surprised myself,’’ Bell said. “I just went out there and played football. I just acted like it was another day of practice and I had a fun time doing it. It was a great day, just out there playing ball. There’s nothing better.’’