- Brandon Chatmon, ESPN Staff Writer
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NORMAN, Okla. -- Oklahoma’s offense looked different in the Sooners’ third game of the season.
And it wasn’t just the production.
OU returned to more four-receiver sets, leaned on its passing game instead of its running game and recorded more explosive plays in the Sooners’ 51-20 win over Tulsa last Saturday. Most importantly, quarterback Blake Bell sparked the Sooners with his poise, accuracy and efficiency.
A glimpse at the numbers provides a clearer view of the differences between the Sooners’ offense against Tulsa and how Bell helped change the offense.
The Sooners had six plays of 20 yards or more against Tulsa. OU had two plays of 20 yards or more in its first two games combined. Time and time again Bell’s accuracy allowed his receivers to catch the ball on the run and continue to gain yardage. His 82-yard connection with Jaz Reynolds was a quick pass but its accuracy allowed Reynolds to break free for a big gain.
Bell’s 96.7 Total QBR was third best among FBS quarterbacks in Week 3 and was the highest QBR by a Sooners signal-caller in a game since Sam Bradford recorded a 99.0 against Baylor in 2008.
Bell targeted 11 different receivers while completing 27 of 37 passes for 413 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. The junior spread the ball around to different receivers and generally found the open receiver without staring down his intended target. By comparison, Trevor Knight, who started OU’s first two games, targeted eight different receivers in two games combined.
Bell connected at least 50 percent of the time with 10 of those 11 targeted receivers. Brennan Clay was targeted once, resulting in a incompletion. Sterling Shepard had the best reception percentage, catching 8 of 9 targets (88.8 percent) for 123 yards and two touchdowns.
The Sooners’ quick start was one of the keys to the game. Bell was 5 of 7 for 133 yards in the first quarter as the Sooners scored two touchdowns and a field goal in their first three possessions. Knight was 7 of 15 for 71 yards, one touchdown and one interception combined in the first quarter during his two starts. OU averaged 9.11 yards per play against Tulsa after averaging 3.47 yards per play in the first quarter of its first two games.
It’s hard to lean on sheer numbers to differentiate between Knight and Bell. Tulsa came out with a focus on slowing the Sooners’ running game, which came into the contest averaging 310.5 yards per game. OU responded in kind with a focus on jump-starting its lackluster passing attack.
“Obviously, we were emphasizing and trying to boost and improve our passing game,” coach Bob Stoops said. “We’re going to choose what we run according to what defenses are out there and the personnel we have. If you noticed, their defense is not like what we had seen the last two weeks.”
Nonetheless, the offense was night and day compared to the unit that stepped on the Oklahoma Memorial Stadium turf during the first two weeks of the season. That’s why Blake Bell has left no doubt who will be the Sooners’ starting quarterback moving forward.
“You can’t deny what he just went out there and did,” Stoops said. “I’m proud of him and excited for him. Again, I think it also speaks to his character as a guy that was ready for it. He never got down, never changed his attitude. He got his chance and he took great advantage of it.”
3hMax Olson and Jake Trotter