- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
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NORMAN, Okla. -- There are plenty of Oklahoma fans who have been yearning for Blake Bell to start at quarterback.
They’ll get their wish on Saturday when the junior will lead the Sooners' offense against Tulsa. It’s a huge game for Bell, who was disappointed after losing the quarterback battle to Trevor Knight in August. Saturday could be a day of redemption for him.
Here are some storylines, players to watch and a prediction:
Will Bell jump start the passing game? The Sooners running game is operating at a high level, averaging 310 yards which ranks No. 12 nationally. But, at some point, the Sooners will need to lean on their passing game, which has been terrible in their first two games. Bell will get the opportunity to show he can be a threat as a passer against the Golden Hurricane.
Will the Sooners continue to improve? It will be important for OU to avoid any kind of letdown after two wins to start the season. The Sooners haven’t won with style points, but they could against Tulsa with another dominant defensive performance joined by an explosive, big-play offensive output. It's important they enter their bye week with momentum before their hyped nonconference battle with Notre Dame on Sept. 28.
An opportunity to develop depth. If OU takes care of business, several young players should get opportunities. The Sooners should win this game comfortably and shouldn’t hesitate to give guys like running back Keith Ford, cornerback Stanvon Taylor, safety Ahmad Thomas, defensive end Matt Dimon and others extensive playing time.
Players to watch
Quarterback Blake Bell: Make no mistake, this game is about Bell. All eyes will be on him as he starts for the first time in his career. Simply put, Bell can silence his doubters with a great performance. Or he could give those doubters validation if he struggles. No pressure, though.
Cornerback Cortez Johnson: With Zack Sanchez proving himself more and more each week, Johnson needs to step up and show the Sooners’ coaches that there are three quality cover men on the roster. With Aaron Colvin nicked up, Johnson will probably play more than he has at any point this season, so he, like Bell, needs to seize the opportunity to prove he should be a core contributor.
Receiver Sterling Shepard: The sophomore looked like he was poised to have a breakout season during his second year on campus. Yet, he has three receptions for 23 yards through two games. He’s too talented to remain quiet for the duration of the year. And the Sooners are smart enough to try to get him going before he starts to lose confidence.
Reason for concern: Tulsa running back Trey Watts, the son of former OU quarterback J.C. Watts, is the headliner on the Golden Hurricane offense. He’s one of college football’s most versatile running backs and is averaging 6.2 yards per carry this season. Expect the Sooners to try to force TU to use other offensive threats to beat them.
Prediction: OU 35, Tulsa 13. The Sooners' offense still can’t find a rhythm, and that's become the storyline this season. OU has its moments offensively but never looks like the explosive offense we’ve come to know. Fortunately for Oklahoma, the defense continues to set the standard and tone for the entire team as the Sooners cruise to an easy win.