By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — About 15 minutes prior to Oklahoma’s game Saturday against Tulsa, there was a roar at Owen Field. Blake Bell had just been introduced as starting quarterback.
Whether it was acknowledgment of what the quarterback had done in the past or a hope for what he would do in the future isn’t known.
However, what he did once the game started guaranteed it won’t be the last ovation he receives. The Belldozer transformed into the Sooners’ quarterback in a 51-20 rout of the Golden Hurricane. When it was over the 6-foot-6, 252-pound Bell seemed even bigger.
“It was awesome. I had a great time, first of all, just getting out there and playing ball, there’s nothing better,” Bell said.
As far as debuts for OU quarterbacks, it’s hard to top Bell’s display. He threw for 413 yards and four touchdowns. Only Sam Bradford, who established the first-start bar with a 363-yard performance in the 2007 season opener, could still say he ran the Sooners’ offensive so efficiently and precisely in his first start.
The only question that lingered by Saturday afternoon was how Bell left preseason camp as the backup quarterback to Trevor Knight?
Neither OU coach Bob Stoops nor offensive coordinator Josh Heupel wanted to wrestle with that one. However, Stoops quickly said there’s no debate who will take the first snap when the Sooners face No. 21 Notre Dame Sept. 28.
“Well, that’s pretty obvious, yeah,” Stoops said when asked if Bell’s performance solidified his spot atop the depth chart. “So much for your controversy right now. You can’t deny what he just went out and did. I’m proud of him and excited for him.
“I think it also speaks to his character in that he was a guy that was ready for it. He never got down, never changed his attitude. He got his chance and took advantage of it.”
Bell also altered the trajectory of the Sooners’ offense. In the first two games, OU rushed for more than 300 yards in both. It struggled hitting open receivers. Its passing game was just a shell of its former self.
Bell corrected the issue, going 27-for-37. More importantly, he threw passes receivers could easily secure and then go to work.
“It was great. He came out and completed his first few passes and got comfortable,” OU wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. “Throughout the game … we threw for over 400 yards today. That just shows you that he was comfortable.”
Shepard was the biggest beneficiary of Bell’s cozy feeling. He set career highs with eight catches, 123 receiving yards and two touchdown grabs.
In all, Bell connected with 10 different receivers with five of his 27 completions going for more than 25 yards.
Tulsa (1-2) helped set that in motion. It had seen the Sooners play twice. Stopping the run was a priority. There was no hint Bell would be this effective throwing the ball.
The opening drive showed something different was coming. Bell fired a strike to Shepard to convert a third-and-6 and then hit him for another 18 yards. Bell showed his running ability hadn’t gone into hibernation with a tackle-breaking 11-yard run to convert a third-and-9. Four plays later OU was celebrating a Brennan Clay’s 4-yard touchdown run.
It was the drive Bell had waited years to lead. If there was any resentment from initially being passed over for the starting job, it was gone.
“I just went out there and played ball. I did nothing really too up or too down. I just played ball and acted like it’s another day at practice,” Bell said. “I had a fun time doing it. I felt like I was seeing my reads pretty well and my keys and just having fun with it.”
The Sooners (3-0) appeared to have fun. The prolific offense they’re used to having re-emerged. They piled 607 yards and amassed a 27-7 halftime lead by scoring on their first five offensive possessions (three touchdowns and two Michael Hunnicutt field goals.)
It continued throughout the second half. OU didn’t have a turnover and only punted once. The Sooners even rushed for 194 yards with running back Roy Finch, Clay and freshman Keith Ford combining for 163 yards.
Tulsa running back Trey Watts, who is the son of former OU quarterback J.C. Watts, rush for 60 yards and had five catches for 65 for 65. His 2-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter hinted the Sooners might have a hard time Saturday.
The Golden Hurricane, however, couldn’t keep pace. Bell and the Sooner offense were too good.
The game is going to be remembered as Bell’s coming out party. There’s a very tiny fraternity which could say its first start went as well as Bell’s. The group thins when you consider Bell spent the season’s first two week at No. 2 on the depth chart.
He wasn’t thinking about that Saturday.
“There’s been some ups and downs. Not getting to start, you know, everyone just said you’ve gotta be ready and that’s what I did,” he said. “I put my head down and went to work because you never know what’s gonna happen, and prepared every day like I could go in there at any time.”
Because of the way he played Saturday, he won’t be leaving any time soon.
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