For the first two weeks of the season, Oklahoma's revamped offense stumbled around Owen Field like a frat boy on Campus Corner at closing time. The Sooners' new Pistol scheme chewed up yards on the ground in wins over Louisiana-Monroe and West Virginia, but the aerial attack just wasn't clicking under redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, the upset winner of an August quarterback derby.
Did OU rectify its passing problems Saturday afternoon with veteran Blake Bell at the helm? The numbers from the Sooners' 51-20 rout of Tulsa sure look good: Bell completed 27 of 37 passes for 414 yards and 4 touchdowns. Bell, who had zero turnovers on the day, also avoided the major mistakes that had plagued Knight.
Bell looked composed and collected in his first start. Bob Stoops was apparently pleased with the performance. Immediately after the game, he preemptively named Bell the starter for the Sooners' next game in two weeks against Notre Dame. For now, we can safely say it's Bell's job, unless he implodes.
So, OU has some certainty behind center for the time being. Certainty, however, doesn't necessarily equate to having the right answer. Bell got off to a promising start when the bullets were live, but the Golden Hurricane were glorified target practice.
Other thoughts and observations:
*OU's running game clearly didn't click the way it had in the first two contests, both of which saw the Sooners pound out more than 300 yards on the ground. With Damien Williams suspended for the contest, OU ran for 194 yards on the day, generating an average of 4.4 yards per attempt.
No need to freak out or anything, but the offensive line's inability to regularly push around TU's defensive front could be a harbinger of what's to come against ND's talented front seven.
*For the first time this year, OU's defense showed some cracks. TU QB Cody Green wasn't exactly running for his life when he dropped back to throw, allowing him ample time to survey the field and find open receivers.
Notably, TU had success passing the ball to Trey Watts coming out of the backfield. TU coach Bill Blankenship put together a solid game plan, but it wasn't the linebackers' best day in coverage.
*OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops once again played freshman Dominique Alexander as an inside linebacker against heavier personnel groupings and pro-style offensive sets. Alexander is more than holding his own when called into action. Using a true freshman in that role speaks to the Sooners' depth issues at linebacker.
The Fighting Irish run a power-oriented, pro-style offense, which would suggest that Alexander will get plenty of run in South Bend. I do wonder, though, if Mike is working on a four-man defensive front or a more conventional 3-4 defense for ND - maybe move Geneo Grissom or Charles Tapper to outside linebacker and sub in Chuka Ndulue as a 3-4 DE. Doubt it, but something interesting to consider.
*Time to get Keith Ford more carries? Cale Gundy has an abundance of weapons at his disposal, but he might not be able to keep Ford in mop-up duty for long.
*Durron Neal should take on a greater role in the receiving corps as the season wears on. He offers an enticing combination of size and speed on the outside, and Neal appears to have shaken off the inexperienced mistakes that limited his contributions in 2012.
*TU's strategy of picking on the Sooners' young cornerbacks worked to varying degrees. All in all, Zack Sanchez and Stanvon Taylor held up well in Aaron Colvin's absence. Giving Taylor the starting nod over Cortez Johnson stood out as one of the more interesting personnel decisions in this game.
*Jay Boulware deserves a raise for the work that he has done with the special teams.