At the end of spring practices the general assumption regarding Oklahoma's quarterbacks was the the job was Blake Bell's to lose with Kendal Thompson making a strong showing and Trevor Knight showing a huge upside. As the Sooners walked off the field in Stillwater you kinda get the exact same feeling.
Truth is, we have no idea as to who OU will start at quarterback in the Sugar Bowl but we do have the usual suspects and the same assumptions from eight months ago. With all three getting a look against the Cowboys, they each have somewhat of an argument as to why they should get the nod in Oklahoma's biggest game since the BCS championship game following the 2008 season.
Blake Bell walked off the field, for the second year in a row, as one of the Bedlam heroes. Starting the game as the third team quarterback, Bell watched Knight play the first half and then Thompson take the field to start the second half before his number was ever called. He responded by completing 10-of-16 passing attempts, including the game-winning seven yard score to Jalen Saunders.
His two biggest plays of the game (the dribble pass from his own end zone gets an honorable mention) both go against the knocks on him. Having been criticized for holding the ball too long, staying in the pocket, and not making the proper reads, Bell may have at least made his critics take a brief pause. On a third and ten, with 47 seconds left, he zipped the ball to Jalen Saunders, while on the run and being mindful of the line of scrimmage, for a thirteen yard gain. I'm still hearing arguments from the other side that the play should have been penalized because he actually crossed the line of scrimmage but in my best Mike Gundy voice, "that ain't true!"
The above photo clearly shows that Bell is still behind the line of scrimmage when he releases the ball, talk about a heads up play. You have to credit Bell's legs for making the play happen because Saunders opened up only after Bell left the pocket. You also have to credit Bell for keeping his eyes down field while scrambling/rolling to his right. Bell had a calm poise this entire drive that we really haven't seen this season. He was just casual business like in a pressure packed situation and it led to perhaps the biggest touchdown pass of his career.
Not only was Bell's touchdown pass to Saunders a great throw but the entire play itself was fantastic. The Sooners moved both Saunders and Shepard to the inside for this entire drive and Oklahoma State never adjusted. Instead of having their best defenders cover Oklahoma's best receivers, the Cowboys chose instead to cover the two with safeties and linebackers on the drive.
Bell has a trips set to his right with Jaz Reynolds on the outside and Shepard Saunders on the inside. The best part is that they are drawing one-on-one coverage from the Oklahoma State defense with junior safety Lyndell Johnson over Saunders. Reynolds and Shepard run double in routes and Saunders has a fade to the back pylon. Johnson is beaten badly on the play and all Bell has to do is spot the ball over Saunders' shoulder. The pass couldn't have been more perfect.
As I guy who has been critical of Bell this season I should say that I'll take him over the other two quarterbacks if this is the guy I'm going to get. The problem is that there is also a less confident version of Blake Bell that comes out every so often as well and that could be why, six months after spring practice concluded, the quarterback case still isn't closed.
There's been much said about the way Josh Heupel chose to use Kendal Thompson in the Bedlam game. I'm always a proponent of putting players in the best situation to succeed and with Thompson one would assume that would be letting him run. The Cowboys certainly assumed that and they stacked the box to prevent it and dared Thompson to beat them with his arm. Unfortunately he didn't seem to be quite up to the challenge, going just 2-for-9, but that doesn't mean he was a bust either. The way Oklahoma State chose to defend him led to Oklahoma scoring.
OSU is so concerned about Thompson running the zone read that they have eight defenders within four yards of the line of scrimmage and grouped inside. This makes them susceptible to being beaten on the edge and it also puts them in one-on-one pass coverage. Oklahoma was able to exploit both of those when Thompson hit tight end Brannon Green for a sixteen yard gain when he drew single coverage with safety Daytawion Lowe. Two plays later the Sooners burned the Pokes on a double reverse that went for 37 yards and Thompson had the key block to spring it. Four plays later Oklahoma tied the game on the fake field goal.
Thompson and Knight are very similar in their capabilities with Knight being the more polished passer of the two (yes, I said polished passer and Trevor Knight in the same breath) and the most experienced quarterback. This most likely means a backseat for Thompson if Knight is healthy because I think at that point it becomes a two-man race between the two most experienced quarterbacks.
Trevor Knight seems to be the best of both worlds. He was more than solid passing the football against Kansas State and was off to a decent start in Bedlam (3-of-7). He also had 47 yards on 11 carries in the first half making him a legitimate dual threat who runs the zone read better than they other two quarterbacks. The obvious concern here is durability. Knight has been sent to the sidelines with injury in two of the four games he's started this season. If the likes of West Virginia and Oklahoma State send him to the training table, what is the Alabama defense capable of doing to him?
You can't help but think that the quarterback situation is a big hot mess right now. The game plan changes based on the guy who is in the game at the time and the offense has the danger of becoming schizophrenic it too many changes occur in one game. It worked in Oklahoma's favor in Bedlam because it was obvious that the Cowboys weren't ready for a Blake Bell led passing attack. The best scenario is just one quarterback to lead the team but how do you chose? Do you stick to the guy who has the hot hand and won the rivalry game or do you go with the young dual threat who has a massive upside? What about the inexperienced athlete who really hasn't been given a proper opportunity yet? There are almost as many options as there are questions. With an entire football season having come and gone it appears that we're back to where we started last spring.