NORMAN, Okla. —No. 7 Oklahoma is taking a page out of the Tim Tebow playbook to try and improve on its conversion rate deep in the red zone.
The Sooners (7-1, 4-1 Big 12) are turning to redshirt freshman quarterback Blake Bell in a package that features him as more of a running threat than starter Landry Jones. It has similarities to the way Florida's Urban Meyer used Tebow as a powerful runner opposite starter Chris Leak during the 2006 season, when the Gators went on to win the national championship.
"It worked for Florida," offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. "It worked for them and I haven't looked at any of their stuff, but I'm sure they wrinkled it up every week."
Bell, from Bishop Carroll High, scored a touchdown on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line on Oklahoma's opening drive last week against Kansas State. The Sooners later used the package on second and third downs in short yardage situations outside the red zone.
Heupel said Oklahoma installed a "tight zone package and then a third-and-short package" for Bell leading into last week's game. Beyond the touchdown, Bell also picked up two other first downs in short-yardage situations. He also was tackled for a loss once and fumbled once.
"He's going to be fine with it," coach Bob Stoops said. "That's just a wrinkle that'll be there and the positive part of that is there's multiple ways you can run with him but also we like the way he throws the ball.
"So, we'll have some different combinations and different ways to throw it, too, that hopefully take advantage of people or the way they align to stop it."
At the least, it gives Texas A&M (5-3, 3-2) something else to prepare for before Saturday's game.
Heupel credited Kansas State's quarterback run game featuring Collin Klein for helping to spark the Bell package, called simply "Cat" by the Sooners. It's not technically a wildcat formation since Bell is a quarterback, but there's some of the same thinking behind putting the 6-foot-6, 245-pound freshman in as a runner.
"It's a big guy running the football obviously, and then it gives you an extra hat, an extra blocker at the point of attack because he's carrying the ball and not your tailback," Heupel said.
Of course, putting Bell in means removing Jones, who ranks second in the nation with 3,094 yards passing and 26 touchdown passes this season. Only Houston's Case Keenum ranks ahead of him in both categories.
"It's hard to take one of the best players in America off the field," co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. "Let's be honest."
But something had to give. The Sooners score at one of the top rates in the country but have been bitten in each of their three losses over the past season and a half by trouble within the opponent's 20-yard line.
They went scoreless on three of six red zone possessions in a loss at Missouri and on four of six visits at Texas A&M a year ago. Then, they got only two touchdowns in four red zone trips in a loss against Texas Tech two weeks ago.
Before the addition of Bell's package last week helped Oklahoma score touchdowns on all five red zone possessions, the club was getting into the end zone only 55 percent of the time.
So, Jones is fine with anything the coaches come up with that leads to more touchdowns.
"That's what we're looking for," he said. "We're looking to win games."
While Jones can scramble out of trouble in the rare instances it's been necessary, it's no secret he's not the running type. He was even caught on camera during an ESPN all-access package during training camp saying that he's never looking to pull the ball down and run.
"It's definitely something that was good for us, just to show that," Jones said. "Blake's a very talented kid, a big kid.... When you have someone like that that can run a little bit and can get some extra yards after contact, we've got to keep using that.
"We've got to keep doing that sort of stuff and putting it in his hands and letting him go downhill like that."
In addition to his bruising runs for the Gators, Tebow also threw out of his short-yardage package as a freshman. Eventually, when he was the starter, he used his jump pass to help beat Oklahoma in the BCS championship game.
Stoops wanted no part of the comparison.
"This is Oklahoma: Landry Jones and Blake Bell," he said.
Regardless, Heupel said he wouldn't be opposed at looking at how Meyer and the Gators used Tebow if he thought it would provide an advantage. And like Tebow followed Leak into the starting lineup, Bell could be the next in line when Jones leaves.
"We're not trying to develop him as a runner," Heupel said. "He's a passing quarterback. Obviously some of the natural skill set that he has or tools that he has give him an opportunity to do some of that, but that's not the fashion that he's being developed in."