September 14, 2013

HD: Bell rewrites record books in first career start

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Josh Heupel and Bob Stoops had made the call.

On Aug. 22, they named Trevor Knight the starting quarterback for the Sooners they also left Blake Bell to become his de facto backup with Kendal Thompson still out with an injured foot. Bell took it hard.

"When Blake was notified that he wasn't going to be the guy, he was torn up about it," said senior center Gabe Ikard Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. "He had worked very hard, competed throughout the entire year."

The feeling didn't go away overnight. The next day during practice, during film, Heupel, the man he'd tutored the longest on OU's roster, was still carrying the weight of losing to the youngest quarterback on OU's roster.

"He had a tough day in the meeting room, on the practice field, that following day," Heupel said.

It took some time for Bell to shake the feeling of being beaten over the course of eight months. And it should have.

Since August 2012 when Bell was named the backup to former Sooner Landry Jones over Drew Allen, it seemed plain to anyone following OU that Bell would naturally assume the starting job in 2013.

After Allen transferred, it seemed only a matter of time before Bell's name would be in black ink on the top of the depth chart. But Stoops was adamant there was an open competition underway between his three quarterbacks, and any one of them had the talent to win it.

After losing the job, Bell could've pouted. He could've sulked. He could've transferred.

Instead, he followed the advice of his father, Mark, and his uncle, Mike, who are both NFL veterans.

"From my dad and my uncle it's just been, there's gonna be ups and downs in life and you can either go backward or you can keep going forward," Bell said. "I just wanted to keep going forward because you never know when your time's coming, and you gotta be ready."

With Knight out due to injury, Bell was named the starter for Oklahoma's third game of the season against Tulsa and played so well Stoops had no problem saying Bell had earned the right to start in Oklahoma's all important game against Notre Dame in two weeks time.

Bell completed 27-of-37 of his passes for 413 yards including four touchdowns in his first start. Those numbers are good, but they look better when you consider Bell's stat line was better than Heisman Memorial Trophy winner Sam Bradford's in his first career start.

In fact, Bell played the first two quarters against Tulsa (1-2) better than some quarterbacks play entire games. He completed 15-of-21 of his passes for 281 yards with two touchdowns in the first half.

After leading Oklahoma (3-0, 1-0) to its first scoring drive on an opening possession this season, he hit senior wide receiver Jaz Reynolds on a slant route that ended up going for 82 yards.

The resulting drive didn't end in a touchdown, but it set up three of the 27 points the Sooners scored in the first half. Bell was not only helped by Reynolds but by a total of 10 receivers.

Still, sophomore Sterling Shepard seemed to be his favorite. Shepard caught six passes from Bell for 86 yards including one touchdown in the first half.

He finished the game with career bests for catches (8) and yards receiving in a game (123) along with a total of three touchdowns. Earlier in the week, Shepard said the wide outs needed to do a better job of catching what's thrown to them, of stepping their game up for quarterbacks who have a combined three starts between them.

"We had a talk with Coach [Jay] Norvell on our play the first two games," he said. "We realized it wasn't good enough, so we knew that we had to come back out and show the crowd and everybody that we can be a passing offense like we've always been."

Like they've always been. Like Jones was.

There was a glaring difference between the offense Oklahoma ran in its first two games and the one it ran against the Golden Hurricane. The Sooners spread the field with four wide receivers and allowed Bell to throw where he pleased, when he pleased.

But there's no arguing the merits of an offense that resembles the one ran by Jones, the man who finished his career with the third-most passing yards in NCAA history. Nor is there any arguing Bell can't throw the ball.

But Bell wasn't worried about the numbers, or the offense or even folks who questioned his ability to accurately hit receivers on the run at the podium in the Adrian Peterson Team Meeting Room.

"I can't wait to get in there tomorrow and even Monday and start looking at film and just getting better," Bell said. "Preparation is definitely what helped me out there today, and I gotta continue doing that."

Following his father's and uncle's advice, he's moving forward.

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