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.”