Teammates, Coaches Chime in on Bell
By all accounts, junior quarterback Blake Bell’s first start was a smashing success. Along with coming away with a 51-20 victory over Tulsa, Bell set the Sooner record for most passing yards in a debut with 413. Of course, his next starting assessment will be more daunting when Oklahoma travels to Notre Dame on Sept. 28.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that two of Bell’s best friends on the team are also two of the club’s most respected offensive performers, FB Trey Millard and C Gabe Ikard. That trio traveled to Ireland together as part of OU’s Study Abroad program. And while they encountered plenty of friendly Irish during their time in Dublin and other locations, the bond between this trio is evident as they prepare for a rematch with the Fighting Irish.
“Big quarterbacks are some of the best quarterbacks playing football,” said Ikard when asked about Bell’s stature. “It gives them an advantage seeing over the line, seeing safeties and seeing the coverage. Also, it makes him able to play more physical in the pocket and shake things that might be sacks for other quarterbacks. It’s a big advantage, especially a big guy that can run like Blake. It’s a big advantage for our team and his size is a big reason why he makes some of the throws he makes.”
But make no mistake, Bell has developed more skills than just what meets the eye. The Tulsa game was the 23rd contest of his career. The redshirt junior has 24 touchdowns in his career and risen to the occasion on pivotal occasions, from a three-touchdown game that earned him the Insight Bowl Offensive MVP as a freshman to a four-touchdown game vs. Texas last season to the last-second, game-tying run against Oklahoma State in the 2013 regular season finale.
“He’s just a competitor,” said Millard. “He’s that guy who loves a big challenge and pushing himself and that really comes out to play in big games when the pressure is on him. That’s going to come at him in two weeks. He’ll be ready for it.”
Without question, the Sooners’ offense knows it will face one of its stiffest defensive challenges of the year when it travels to South Bend. Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell summed up how Bell’s physical attributes could give OU an edge against an Irish defense filled with potential postseason award winners.
“There’s a picture in the paper,” Norvell said after practice Tuesday. “I don’t know which one, I don’t normally read the paper, a great picture of Blake just releasing the ball really high over the linemen. It’s an advantage. Little guys have to find lanes; big guys can see over the top and drop it down. He has an advantage being that tall. He’s a big, strong, guy. He’s hard to bring down and tough in the pocket. Contact doesn’t affect him as much. Those are all advantages for a quarterback.”
OU-Notre Dame Series Abounds With History
College football has seldom seen history like it has at Oklahoma and Notre Dame. The legendary players, coaches and teams from both schools are familiar to any football fan.
Here’s a quick test of some college football trivia.
What schools rank first and third in total Heisman Trophy winners? Notre Dame (7) and Oklahoma (5).
What schools rank second and third in modern-era national titles? Notre Dame (8) and Oklahoma (7).
What squads rank first and second with the fewest losing seasons? Oklahoma (12) and Notre Dame (13).
What teams rank first and second for the most weeks No. 1 in the AP Poll? Oklahoma (101) and Notre Dame (98).
Head-to-head, Notre Dame holds an 8-1 advantage over Oklahoma. That lone Sooner victory came in grand fashion in 1956, one of the greatest seasons in OU lore. The 1956 campaign came during Oklahoma’s famed 47-game winning streak (still the longest in FBS history). OU went 10-0, starting and finishing the season ranked No. 1 in the country under Hall of Fame coach Bud Wilkinson.
Right in the middle of that championship season, the Sooners made a trip to South Bend. When they left, OU took a 40-0 victory over the Irish with them, one of six shutouts posted on the season.
A Touch of the Irish on OU Staff
A little over 300 miles from the campus of Notre Dame, due east on I-80, lies Youngstown, Ohio, the hometown of Bob and Mike Stoops. While these two football-loving brothers who attended Cardinal Mooney High School didn’t necessarily have any pigskin allegiance to Notre Dame growing up, both OU coaches were well-versed in history and tradition of Notre Dame.
“In the dominant Catholic neighborhoods and community, sure, they [cheer for Notre Dame], everybody to whatever degree,” Stoops said prior to last year’s meeting. “In the area I grew up in it was very strong.”
The Irish program has influenced, and has been influenced by, others in the OU football program. Jerry Schmidt, now in his 15th year as Director of Sports Enhancement at Oklahoma, has worked with the Irish twice. First, Schmidt was an assistant coach in South Bend under Lou Holtz, winning a national title in 1988. After a brief stint at a rival school in Stillwater, Okla., Schmidt returned to Notre Dame in 1989, this time as the Irish strength and conditioning coach under Holtz.
Two decades before Schmidt, longtime OU Director of Football Operations Merv Johnson was Notre Dame's offensive coordinator from 1975-78 under head coach Dan Devine. Guiding the offensive side of the ball, Johnson and Notre Dame won a national championship in 1977, capping off the year with a victory over then-No. 1 Texas.
In 1978, Johnson was given the additional title of assistant head coach; that season, the Irish finished the year with a Cotton Bowl victory and ranked seventh in the final AP poll behind team captains Joe Montana and Bob Golic.
Even current co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell spent a couple months as a graduate assistant at Notre Dame after the ’88 championship.
“Barry Alvarez was one of my college coaches (at Iowa) and he brought me to Notre Dame as a graduate assistant when I got done playing ball,” Norvell said. “That’s a special memory for me, being there. It’s a unique place. That’s one of the unique things about playing college football at Oklahoma, you get to play in those kind of places.”
Vote For Bell – Manning Award Star of the Week
QB Blake Bell’s performance didn’t just gain attention from around the Big 12 Conference. Football experts across the nation took notice.
In addition to earning Big 12 Offensive POW honors, Bell was one of the quarterbacks named for the Manning Award Star of the Week. The Manning Award, sponsored by the Allstate Sugar Bowl, has named eight quarterbacks as its “Stars of the Week.”
College football fans can now vote for what they think was the best performance from this past weekend. When voting closes on Thursday at 11 a.m. CT the top vote-getter will be announced as the Manning Award Player of the Week.
To vote, fans can visit the following link and “like” the photo of the quarterback they believe had the best week.
The Manning Award was created by the Allstate Sugar Bowl in 2004 to honor the college football accomplishments of Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning. It is the only quarterback award that includes the candidates’ bowl performances in its balloting.
Odds and Ends
The threat of lightning forced the Sooners off the practice field a few minutes earlier than scheduled on Tuesday … Head coach Bob Stoops indicated that the club will follow its normal bye week practice routine through Friday, with the players expected to get the weekend off and practice resuming its typical game-week schedule on Monday … The offensive squad is in road white this week, while the defense is in crimson during practice, marking the first time that switch has been made with the Sooners prepping for their inaugural road contest … A production crew from NBC Sports was in Norman filming interviews and other material for next weekend’s game at Notre Dame. Stoops, Blake Bell, Aaron Colvin, Gabe Ikard, Trey Millard, Corey Nelson, Jalen Saunders and Charles Tapper all took time in front of the cameras today.