OU ready to make amends for 2012 loss to Notre Dame
After a successful 3-0 start, the Oklahoma Sooners are ready to even the score with Notre Dame, who beat OU in Norman last season.
“Everyone has confidence in the direction we’re going,” OU coach Bob Stoops said after thumping Tulsa 51-20. “It should speak to the players too when we emphasize certain things in practice and they happen on the game field. It encourages them to keep practicing that way. We’ll build on it. It’s only the third game and we’ve still got a lot of younger guys that are gaining experience and we just have to keep improving.”
The 2012 game with Notre Dame was closer than the score indicated.
“Last year, it was a (10-6) game going into the last quarter, and then they got one long run,” Stoops said. “It wasn’t like they ran the football up and down the field all day. It was a tight game, and they made some critical plays down the stretch when we didn’t. We had an interception and their big run, and outside of that it was a pretty tight game. We had a touchdown called back from the three yard line for a holding call. The problem was the last four minutes of the game.”
Last year in Norman, former OU quarterback Landry Jones passed for 356 yards but no touchdowns. Jones suffered a costly interception when one of his passes bounced off Jalen Sauders and was caught by Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o.
Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson, who is suspended this season, passed for 177 yards last year and scored on a one-yard run.
The Sooners managed to convert only four of 14 third downs and had only 14 yards of net rushing. OU quarterback Blake Bell scored the only touchdown last year on a one-yard run.
The Irish limited OU to 13 points, which is the fewest by Oklahoma last season and tied for the second-fewest at home during the 14-year Bob Stoops era at OU. The Sooners opened the 2005 season with a 17-10 home loss vs. TCU while the 2001 Oklahoma team ended that regular-season with a 16-13 home loss to Oklahoma State. In every other home game at Oklahoma since 1999, the Sooners have scored at least 14 points.
“It will be a strong test,” Stoops said of the Notre Dame game. “It will be tough going on the road. You have to keep your poise, your discipline and play hard, and you have to make plays when you get the opportunity to make them whether you’re home or away. You have to be able to perform the same way.”
Jones was a classic drop-back passer who almost never ran the ball. OU’s Blake Bell, who will start against the Fighting Irish next Saturday, is famous for his success in a short yardage formation dubbed the “Belldozer.”
“He’s big,” Stoops said of Blake. “Sam’s similar height wise but you know Sam (Bradford) is 225-230 and Blake’s got about 20 pounds on him. Blake isn’t as quick as Kendal (Thompson) or Trevor (Knight), but he is stronger. He can run through arm tackles.
“If someone is bumping him in the pocket he can stand up to it and still be able to get his balance and deliver the ball. Those things are to his advantage. He can see over linemen, over pressure and those things help him. There are those guys who can throw from the pocket that are 6-1. Drew Brees does it wonderfully. Whether he’s six-foot or 6-6, you still do the same things.”
Redshirt freshman Trevor Knight started the first two games for OU but was replaced by Bell after Knight bruised his knee. Knight will be available for the Notre Dame game but Bell left no doubt about his status in the TU win.
“Really, (Blake was) the story of the game, Blake was 27 of 37, 413 yards, four TD passes,” Stoops said. “We were 12 of 16 on third downs, which were a big part of the game. I thought players around Blake performed better, in particular the receivers, who I felt in the first couple of games haven’t played to the level they’re capable of and I felt they stepped it up and played in a much better way in this game with catches, blocks, executing the screens, all those kind of things we’re a lot better and a lot cleaner.
“There was a big emphasis for us last week in just getting our passing game going and it sure was a lot better. Our protection was great through the day. Our offensive line blocked well. We rushed for almost 200 yards which is really good. The best part of the day is turnovers. We only had three penalties on the day and zero turnovers and that’s a pretty clean and strong day when you can take care of the football that way.”
Fans had no idea how Bell would react when Knight was named the starter in preseason. Bell is a junior and has played in a lot of big games the past two years.
“It’s a testament to his character that he didn’t get down, he didn’t get negative,” Stoops said. “He kept working and he got his opportunity and he took all kind of advantage of it. What people don’t see is after the press conference, he’s back at his locker and who’s over there giving him a big bear hug: Trevor Knight. These guys pull for each other. There isn’t anyone there trying to undercut the other guy or wish the other guy ill will. Blake’s a great example of perseverance and wait and get your opportunity and take advantage of it.”
Stoops talked to Bell and his team about the Knight decision.
“As much as anything what I talked about, to the whole team, is that this isn’t the end all,” Stoops said. “We’ve got a long season in front of us. You don’t know what’s going to happen, but you have to prepare and be ready for your opportunities, and in any position the starter could be down and you’re in the game and you’re going to play the whole game. You need to be prepared for it and I talked about Jason White and Nate Hybl, how they had a quarterback competition, was tight. Jason White ends up winning the job, gets hurt in the second or third game, tears his knee, and Nate Hybl goes on, leads us to a Big 12 Championship and a Rose Bowl victory and he’s the Rose Bowl MVP. And he didn’t start the year being the guy. So you just don’t know, when you go through a long season, how it’s going to unfold.”
The only question about Bell among fans was could he pass. Stoops said Bell’s arm strength is not in question.
“He’s very much the same as all the good ones we’ve had,” Stoops said. “I don’t think we’ve had one that didn’t have good arm strength.”
Stoops would not commit to saying that Bell would start the rest of the games this season.
“We’re not going to define that,” Stoops said. “Blake (Bell) is the guy right now, and we’ll see from now on how things go in practice and games, and we’ll see how Kendal (Thompson) and Trevor (Knight) continue to work. We’ll take it as it comes.”
Is the Belldozer formation on the shelf with Bell starting?
“It still has its place,” Stoops said. “Third and one or third and goal at the one or two would still be important. It’s still important for us to pick up the first down. There will be a place for it.”