NORMAN, Okla. -- Blake Bell was aiming to send an early message.
Facing the first third down of the game, the Oklahoma quarterback calmly stepped up into the face of defensive pressure from Tulsa’s defensive line and threw a strike into the belly of Sooners receiver Sterling Shepard for a 9-yard gain on third-and-6.
First down, let’s move the chains.
Bell’s poised play on third down was the most impressive thing about the junior’s first start as he led OU to a 51-20 win over Tulsa on Sept. 14. OU was 12 of 16 on third down (75 percent) as the Sooners offense was explosive for the first time this season. Bell earned Big 12 offensive player of the week honors.
“Those are important to pick up,” coach Bob Stoops said. “They relate to points when you’re picking up third downs, it relates to time on the clock, moving the ball, field position, all of those.”
Here are some revealing numbers about the Sooners’ dominance on third down in Bell’s first collegiate start:
The Sooners averaged 15.81 yards per play on third down against Tulsa. It’s a staggering number that makes it easy to understand why the Sooners scored a season-high 51 points.
Bell was 8-of-12 for 233 yards and two touchdowns on third down. His 82-yard completion to Jaz Reynolds came on third-and-4.
Bell’s raw QBR on third down was 100, tops in the nation. The national raw QBR among quarterbacks who had eight or more third down attempts in Week 3 was 61.0.
Four of his third down completions went for 20 yards or more, a sign he was accurate with the ball and allowing the Sooners receivers to pick up yards after the catch.
Bell was 5-of-8 for 145 yards on third down attempts when the Sooners needed 2-5 yards.
Bell was 3-of-4 for 88 yards and one touchdown on third down attempts when the Sooners needed 6-10 yards.
Sterling Shepard was his most productive receiver on third down. The sophomore receiver had four receptions for 91 yards and two touchdowns.
Durron Neal was his favorite target on third down, completing 3 of 5 passes to the Missouri native for 60 yards.
Bell also rushed three times for 16 yards on third down, picking up the first down each time including an 11-yard run on third-and-10 to keep the game-opening touchdown drive alive.
For comparison, Trevor Knight was 7 of 18 for 91 yards with two touchdowns and one interception as OU’s starting quarterback in the Sooners’ first two games combined.
Simply put, Blake Bell won’t be replaced by anyone if he continues to excel on third down for the Sooners like he did against the Golden Hurricane. In fact, if he performs like that, the sky’s the limit for the junior and the OU offense.