NORMAN, Okla. -- It’s rare that uncertainty transforms into something positive.
For Oklahoma, the lack of clarity at the quarterback position could become useful against Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The Sooners played three different quarterbacks during their 33-24 win over Oklahoma State in Bedlam and have struggled to get consistent play at the position despite finishing 10-2 in the regular season.
During Bedlam, the Sooners offense was running the option and zone read plays with quarterback Trevor Knight during the first quarter and running a four-receiver, spread attack with Blake Bell at various times during in the second half after Knight left the game due to an injury. Having to defend both styles seemed to create problems for the Cowboys’ defense, which finished among the Big 12’s best this season.
Using both offensive approaches against the Crimson Tide could help challenge Nick Saban’s defense, which led the SEC in points per game allowed (11.3) and yards per play allowed (4.73).
The Sooners don’t plan to name a starting quarterback before the game.
“That will be a game-time decision,” coach Bob Stoops said.
It might not matter who takes the first snap in New Orleans. While Alabama would have had plenty of time to prepare for all the variations the Sooners' offense has shown this season, OU would be wise to take an Bedlam-like approach.
“We used a little bit of everything the last ball game,” Sooners offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “We mixed and matched. Some of it was planned and some of it wasn’t.”
Knight started the game against OSU, as OU looked to use its quarterback run-game attack featuring option runs and zone read plays to take advantage of the redshirt freshman’s speed and athleticism. A similar approach against Alabama will force the Crimson Tide to account for Knight and help the Sooners win the numbers game in the box. In other words, Knight’s ability to run could make it easier to attack an Alabama defense that allowed just 108.33 rushing yards per game. The Crimson Tide are likely to sell out to stop the run with so Knight undoubtedly will have to make them pay with his arm for OU to have success.
With Bell, OU’s offense takes a different approach. The junior earned the nickname “Belldozer” thanks to his short-yardage running as a freshman and sophomore but OU turns to the passing game when he's taking the snap. Against OSU, Bell often came in on third down to throw the ball and he led the Sooners on their game-winning drive in the final minutes. Against Alabama, that offense could be used to help keep the Crimson Tide honest. OU’s running game has been, by far, the most consistent aspect of its offense. But the passing success with Bell under center during Bedlam provided some hope for OU’s offense.
“We’re finding who gives us the best chance in the style of offense we’re in and gives us the best chance to have success,” Heupel said.
With Knight at the helm, OU averages 15 pass attempts per game. With Bell under center, the Sooners average 21.1 pass attempts per contest. Combining the two attacks makes sense, particularly since the rest of the Sooners' offense has gotten comfortable running both offenses.
“You try to put those guys in the position to look successful,” Heupel said. “We’ll have a mixture of a little bit of everything at the Sugar Bowl to give ourselves a chance to win the ball game.”
No matter what offense the Sooners run, execution will be critical. OU will have to win individual battles in the trenches against an supremely-talented Crimson Tide defense and show it can make plays on the ground and through the air or risk having Alabama’s defense overwhelm and shut down OU’s offense.
“With our coaching staff, I feel like we’re going to develop a really good plan that will give us a good shot,” Knight said. “If we go out there and execute the way we can, I think we’ll be okay.”