NORMAN — Another twist was thrown into the Sooners quarterback saga Saturday afternoon against Tulsa, when Blake Bell led the Sooners to a big 51-20 win over their inter-state rivals.
Bell’s 413 yards passing is the most in a first start in Oklahoma’s program history, and it translated to four passing touchdowns. The mark exceeds the 356 yards put up by Sam Bradford in his first start just a few years ago.
“We were emphasizing trying to boost and improve our passing game,” Stoops said. “He obviously did that, along with our receivers.”
The person on the receiving end of most of those Bell passes was Sterling Shepard, who had a career high 123 yards off 8 catches to go with his two touchdowns. Even with the running game struggling against Tulsa, the 607 yards of total offense made the win comfortable. The same comfort can now be felt by Bell, who after entering the season as the second string will take the reins against Notre Dame in two weeks’ time.
“That’s pretty obvious, yeah,” Stoops said. “So much for your controversy right now; it didn’t last long. You can’t deny what he just went out and did.”
Bell’s impact was felt immediately, as he connected with Shepard for a couple of passes on the opening drive to take the Sooners further into Tulsa territory. The mobile quarterback then scrambled across the field on third down for 10 yards to keep the drive going. After standing out last week, Brennan Clay ran in four yards for the Sooners’ first touchdown on an opening drive this season.
On their next drive the Sooners benefitted from their work on the passing game again. This time it was Jaz Reynolds on a quick slant who caught Bell’s pass and had tons of room to run. The 82-yard play took Oklahoma inside the Tulsa 10 yard line before Darnell Walker made an important tackle for Tulsa. OU had to eventually settle for a 20-yard Hunnicutt field goal.
The Golden Hurricane got one back on their next drive, but not without a little controversy. On a pass that fell in the end zone, Oklahoma safety Gabe Lynn was called for targeting, which now comes with an automatic ejection. This brought a chorus of boos and an irate Stoops to descend on the referees, who soon had the play reviewed. The ejection was reversed, as it was clear that Lynn hit the Tulsa receiver with his shoulder and not on his helmet. However, the 15 yard penalty stood.
“I thought they did it just how it was meant to be,” Stoops said of the referees after the game. “He initially thought it was helmet-to-helmet, they reviewed it, saw that it wasn’t, so he was able to stay in the game.”
With another bite at the cherry, running back Trey Watts ran in two yards for the touchdown. With one quarter down, the score was 10-7 Oklahoma.
But the Sooners extended their lead to start the second frame. A three yard pass to Sterling put the Sooners up 17-7, and they weren’t done there. It’s a good thing Lynn wasn’t ejected, because he later returned an interception across the middle of the field for 31 yards. That set up a quick pass to Roy Finch, who shimmied his way down the right side for a 29-yard touchdown to make it 24-7 Sooners.
Shepard set up the next Sooner scoring drive with 44-yard catch into the red zone. Tulsa held the offense to another field goal this time, but the OU lead was at 20 by halftime. A big contributor to the lack of red zone execution was down to the running game, which struggled at 4.4 yards per carry. Finch led the ground game with 68 yards from eight carries.
“We did struggle early,” Josh Heupel, offensive coordinator, said of the OU run game. “It wasn’t anything major; we just weren’t executing.”
The Sooners, quite literally, started the second half the way they ended the first. It was Shepard once again, who caught a 35 yard touchdown pass for his first career multi-touchdown game. Tulsa answered, but not in-kind, with a 26-yard Carl Salazar field goal. They added another three points after holding the Sooners to a punt. Watts brought the ball all the way to the OU nine yard line on the return, but the Golden Hurricane wasn’t able to find the end zone.
The Sooners answered with a field goal of their own as the game faded out into the afternoon. Before it was all said and done, Tulsa added another touchdown from a six yard Ja’Terian Douglas run. Not content to sit on their lead, OU marched down the field courtesy of a big run by Finch inside the red zone. A few plays later, Jalen Saunders caught a 25 yard touchdown pass from Bell, his fourth of the game, to make the score 44-20. Freshman Keith Ford then got his first career touchdown on a three yard run to complete the rout.