Bell seizes momentum in OU QB derby

NORMAN, Okla. -- With nothing open from his initial reads, quarterback Blake Bell abandoned the pocket. But instead of attempting to truck his way into the end zone, the artist formerly known as the "Belldozer" rolled right.

Near the sidelines, he waited, and waited. And then when he couldn’t wait any longer, Bell stuck a pass into the chest of receiver Durron Neal for a three-yard touchdown.

Bell said after Oklahoma’s Red-White spring game that he wanted to show he could "sling it around a little bit, too."

And sling it he did, demonstrating that the power running that made him a fan-favorite the past two seasons is just one facet of his arsenal.

Bell completed 14 of 23 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns -- with no turnovers -- Saturday. He also showed the most poise and precision among the quarterbacks to seize momentum in the QB competition heading into the summer.

"I missed a couple throws," Bell said, "But overall, I thought I made some good plays, and was pretty accurate with the ball."

Bell displayed that accuracy from the opening possession, quickly moving the offense down the field with three completions to Jalen Saunders. The drive ultimately ended in a touchdown, when wide receiver Lacoltan Bester scooped up a Damien Williams fumble and raced 35 yards for the score.

On his next drive, Bell faced third-and-long. But instead of scrambling, he stepped into the pocket and fired a strike into the hands of streaking tight end Taylor McNamara in stride. McNamara, however, couldn’t hang on to the ball.

But Bell shook off the drop, and came right back his following drive. He lofted a pass over coverage 41 yards downfield along the sidelines to Neal. Then three plays later, he found Neal again in the end zone after the patient, poised scramble.

“(Bell) has been in a lot of critical situations,” coach Bob Stoops said, referring to Bell’s role in the Belldozer package. “So even though his opportunities to throw the ball have been limited, he’s been in some high-pressure, stressful spots. That’s definitely something you could tell -- he has an easier demeanor right now out there.”

Though Bell had the easier demeanor, sophomore Kendal Thompson and redshirt freshman Trevor Knight -- as they have all spring -- had their moments, too.

Thompson, especially. The fleet-footed lefty was able to evade the defense’s consistent pass rush and make throws downfield. Thompson completed 8 of 15 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown that also was his highlight of the day.

Near the end of the fourth quarter, Thompson flared left, then, with flawless touch, found running back David Smith in the corner of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown.

“When I feel like I need to get out, Coach (Josh) Heupel always says, don't hesitate to move when you need to,” Thompson said. “I feel like I threw the ball well when I did.”

After a skittish start, Knight settled in as well as the game wore on. In the first half, Knight threw a couple of errant passes that could have been intercepted. Then in the third quarter, he fumbled a shotgun snap near his own end zone that was recovered by linebacker Frank Shannon and returned for a touchdown.

Knight, however, was sharp otherwise in the second half. He hooked up with wideout Trey Metoyer for 58 yards on three different completions that led to a short Smith touchdown run.

Then in the fourth quarter, Knight hit Metoyer again with a 43-yard completion down the sidelines, and finished off the possessions with a four-yard touchdown toss to walk-on Don Caudill along the back of the end zone.

“I needed that drive, obviously, for confidence and everything,” said Knight, who finished 11-of-17 passing for 151 yards. “I felt more comfortable throughout the day and that's obvious. The more reps, the more comfortable you feel."

No quarterback, however, looked more comfortable from beginning to end than Bell, who added a 49-yard touchdown pass to Roy Finch across the middle of the field in the second half.

“Playing in big games before, like the Notre Dame game, that helps,” Bell said. “I wasn’t running the offense or anything then, but just being out there, being in fourth-and-two against Notre Dame, you remember things like that.”

Despite Bell’s solid outing, the quarterback race is far from being called, something Stoops and Heupel both reiterated afterward.

“This (spring game) isn’t going to be the determining factor,” Stoops said.

“As in the past, when we’ve been in these situations, we give it time to play out. Sometimes younger players who haven’t been on the field as much need the summer to have an opportunity to catch up.”

Thompson or Knight could very well catch up.

But after showing he’s more than just a Belldozer, it’s Bell who looks like the favorite.