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September 9, 2013

Oklahoma is anything but OK at quarterback

NORMAN — Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops spent the spring, offseason and preseason camp trying to settle on his quarterback. He waited until the week before the first game before finally going with freshman Trevor Knight.

After Saturday night's 16-7 win over West Virginia, the No. 14 Sooners (2-0, 1-0 Big 12) appear right back where they started at quarterback. Will it be Knight or junior Blake Bell?

Stoops wouldn't go as far as to say the competition was again open following the win over the Mountaineers (1-1, 0-1). However, after Knight was pulled to begin the fourth quarter, it's clear the position is anything but set as Oklahoma prepares to host Tulsa next week.

"We're going to be able to throw the football,'' Stoops said. "It just hasn't come to the point where it needs to just yet.''

Knight threw three touchdown passes in the Sooners' opening win over Louisiana-Monroe, but he was far from efficient - completing just 7 of 21 passes in the first half before finishing 11 of 28 for 86 yards.

The freshman appeared just as uncomfortable stepping up in the pocket at times against West Virginia, finishing 10-for-20 passing for 119 yards and throwing a pair of third-quarter interceptions. His first came after Oklahoma had driven to the Mountaineers 5 yard line with a 13-7 lead and his second came on the Sooners' next possession.

Knight did finish with 42 yards rushing, to go along with the 103 yards rushing he had in the opening win. But the turnovers led to his benching in favor of Bell, who Oklahoma offensive coordinator Josh Heupel hoped would provide "a little bit of a spark to finish things off.''

"Trevor did play better tonight than he did in Week 1, I think,'' Heupel said. "Expect for the critical turnovers, and you can't do that at that position.''

While Knight has had seven quarters of action for the Sooners' coaches to review, Bell's lone quarter Saturday night - along with brief mop-up duty against Louisiana-Monroe - provided few answers about his long-term viability as the starter.

The 6-foot-6, 263-pound junior was thought to be the front-runner entering preseason - last season he rushed for 11 touchdowns while leading Oklahoma's goal-line Belldozer offense. However, Stoops went with Knight and left many to wonder about Bell's future with the Sooners - until Saturday night.

Bell carried just twice for 21 yards and had only one pass attempt, an incompletion, but led the Sooners to a game-clinching field goal in the fourth quarter and guided the offense late while it nursed its nine-point lead.

"With the way we finished the game, that's a factor now,'' Stoops said. "I'm not going to detail it now right here after the game. It will be something, as coaches, we need to talk through.''

While the passing game struggled, the running game was again solid. Oklahoma finished with 316 yards rushing, led by a 22-carry, 170-yard effort from Brennan Clay. The Sooners topped the 300-yard rushing mark for the second straight game.

"I think we're getting back to that Oklahoma smashmouth football,'' Clay said. "I think it's good for us to be able to establish the run. Later on down the line, they're going to know we run the ball, and we have a carousel of backs. So, that's going to open up the passing game.''

Stoops said last month he preferred a one-quarterback approach rather than a platoon system. He was noncommittal about such a scenario Saturday night, though he did say, there's "a chance at everything.''

He was also optimistic sophomore quarterback Kendal Thompson, who had surgery last month for a broken foot, would be able to return in a few weeks when the Sooners travel to Notre Dame.

What is certain is that Stoops expects Oklahoma's quarterbacks to improve - they're a combined 24 of 54 passes for 243 yards.

"It ought to be easier than it's been,'' Stoops said. "That play-action ought to be there more than it has been, and even some of just our drop-back execution needs to be improved and better. We'll work hard on that, and believe we'll make that improvement. I'll be surprised if we don't.''

 

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