Stoops Names Bell Starter For Saturday
Head coach Bob Stoops indicated Monday that redshirt junior Blake Bell will make his first career start Saturday when Tulsa visits Norman. Bell, who has appeared in 22 career games, entered the West Virginia game in the second half last week.
Stoops indicated that starter Trevor Knight suffered a bruised knee at the end of the first half against the Mountaineers. Knight stayed in the game into the third quarter, but Stoops said with the combination of the injury and since a few aspects of the game weren’t going like they felt they should have, the staff decided to give Bell an opportunity to finish the game.
“With Trevor now being out a week or two, it’s possible he’ll be back in the off-week, so we’re starting Blake (Bell) here this week and Kendal (Thompson) is released to practice and will be set to play also, so he’ll be getting snaps today,” Stoops said.
Backing up Bell will be sophomore Kendal Thompson, who was competing for the starting job during the offseason before fracturing his foot on Aug. 1. Thompson was on the practice field for the Sooners on Monday.
Persistence and Patience Pays Off For Bell
In the game of football, you’d better be prepared when opportunity knocks (or rings). After a quarterback competition in fall camp that Stoops characterized as “very close,” Blake Bell remained very positive in practice, and frequently could be seen taking “mental” reps directly behind Trevor Knight on the practice field.
“You just never know,” Stoops said of Bell being ready for his number to be called. “The level of football we’re at is competitive. You’re going to have your ups and downs and you are going to have to keep working it and usually when you do, things turn out positive for you.”
In his career, Bell has completed 13 of 26 passes for 153 yards, adding 108 rushes for 403 yards and 24 touchdowns. Stoops reiterated on Monday that fans shouldn’t expect the OU offense to look dramatically different this week, even though a different quarterback is in the game.
“I’ve said it for a year,” he said of OU’s quarterbacks. “You can go back and read all the quotes. They’re pretty much the same. They all can run, they all can throw, and they’re all athletic. There isn’t much of a difference between them as far as their skill set and what they can do.”
Defense Continues to Shine
Through two contests, the OU defense has continued to dominate its opponents, first shutting out ULM in the season opener then holding West Virginia to a touchdown.
Of all FBS teams who have faced two other FBS opponents, OU has allowed the fewest total points (7). The OU defense is tied for fourth in the FBS in scoring defense and is fifth in third-down defense.
Currently, the Sooners sit atop the Big 12 in five defensive categories, including scoring defense (3.5 ppg), total defense (276.5 ypg), third-down defense (5-29, 17.2%), pass defense efficiency (82.6) and Red Zone defense (0-2, 0.0%). The Sooners also ranked second in rushing defense (103.5 ypg).
“They’ve been really strong,” Stoops said. “They are doing a great job communicating, everybody being really strong mentally and not having any busted assignments and playing physical, playing fast, running to the ball. I thought there was a time or two we didn’t tackle very well (against West Virginia). On the one big run, but for the most part they’ve been pretty strong.”
Against the Mountaineers, the Sooners forced four turnovers, including three fumbles and an interception. Redshirt senior safety Gabe Lynn had the pick and recovered one of the fumbles. He also recorded three tackles.
On Monday, Lynn was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week.
“Gabe he’s really in that safety spot is really comfortable playing it,” Stoops said. “He’s doing everything well to be honest on top of being a leader, so it’s exciting. Gabe’s a strong hitter, definitely. I love the way he’s reading the quarterback and jumping the ball and making an interception like he did. He’s doing a lot of good things like that.”
When asked about his performance against West Virginia, Lynn was quick to give credit to his teammates.
“The interception I had and the fumble recovery I had were not even me; that was the defense,” Lynn stated. “I am just excited on where we can go and the future we have.”
Lynn’s teammates have also noticed the impact he has had so far this season.
“Gabe’s at the level of being a real big leader this year,” redshirt junior defensive back Julian Wilson said. “This year he’s more vocal on the field and stepping up and making big plays for us.
While seniors like Lynn, LB Corey Nelson, CB Aaron Colvin have been leading the charge, a number of young players have also stepped up, including redshirt freshman, Zack Sanchez, who has started the season’s first two games and posted six tackles against West Virginia.
“We’ve got two wins under our belt so far. Like I said, there’s always room for improvement. There are always things we can improve on as a team, as a defense, as an offense. We’re working hard every day trying to get better.”
Winning the Battle of Field Position
Head coach Bob Stoops has long stressed the importance of special teams. The Sooners were among the nation’s best coverage units a year ago, and the OU kicking game has continued to make strides under first-year special teams coordinator, Jay Boulware. While K Michael Hunnicutt is 5-of-6 on FGs, it’s been P Jed Barnett and kickoff specialist Nick Hodgson who have gotten even more attention. Barnett is averaging 44.0 yards per punt with seven kicks inside the 20, while Hodgson has registered touchbacks on eight of his 12 kickoffs.
“Until we’re able to get good at one thing, I’m just telling him to kick it deep right now,” Boulware said of his instructions to Hodgson on kickoffs. “Until we’re at the point where we have a consistent guy who can do multiple things with the ball, I’m just telling him to focus on one job. I’m giving my punter one job, not five things to do. That way they can focus on one thing and be really good at it.
“We want to average the 22, 21-yard-line starting point (for opponents after OU kickoffs),” Boulware continued. “Unfortunately, the touchbacks starting at the 25 kind of go against that right now. The last game I think their average starting point was the 19.5-yard line, but you know that one at the 28 just ticked me off. We had the two touchbacks and that’s not good. One of these days our kickoff coverage team will be really dangerous.”
One of the most dangerous players that Boulware is employing on his coverage units is DB Trey Franks.
“He’s outstanding,” Boulware said of Franks. “He’s everything I hoped he could be but he can get better. I’d love to see him be more of a force on kickoff coverage. I feel like he can do more. He is one of the fastest I’ve ever had.”
This weekend, OU faces in-state opponent Tulsa, who enters the game with a 1-1 record. All-time, the Sooners are 17-7-1 against Tulsa, winning 11 of the last 12 meetings since 1979. Several current Sooners hail from the Tulsa area, including defensive standouts such as Gabe Lynn and Aaron Colvin, among others.
OU fans will also see a player with a familiar last name on Saturday as former Sooner J.C. Watts’ son, Trey, plays for the Golden Hurricane. Trey, who is a running back, leads Tulsa in both rushing yards (160) and receptions (13) while ranking third in receiving yards (91).
Stoops said Trey is a player OU will focus on this week since he is a big factor for Tulsa. He also added that those involved in the program are proud of the elder Watts, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003.
“We’re all very proud of J.C. Watts and his legacy here and his legacy with what he’s been doing in the past so many years for our country,” Stoops said. “He’s a great representative of OU and we always love seeing him here whenever he can come back and be around.”
United Way Recognition
Kristin Collins, president of United Way of Norman, visited the University of Oklahoma campus Monday to thank OU, OU Athletics, as well as the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma State University and other entities for their support of disaster relief efforts in the state.
“We are so thankful to have the partnership of the University of Oklahoma and OU Athletics in serving those in need following disasters such as the May 2013 tornadoes,” Collins said. “The collaborative effort among OU, the University of Tulsa and Oklahoma State University and is extra special and demonstrates the true spirit of Oklahoma. The funds raised will make an enormous difference in the ability to provide for the long-term recovery needs of affected families.”
Thanks to the proceeds generated from the sales of two benefit shirt and direct donations to the United Way from fans during Oklahoma Softball’s run to the Women’s College World Series title, United Way of Norman will be donating over $198,000 to agencies such as the Red Cross and the Salvation Army who are assisting in ongoing disaster relief efforts in Oklahoma.