"How on earth did Blake Bell not winning the starting job from Day One?!?"
It's something we've all heard ever since Bell's record breaking performance two weeks ago against Tulsa and after pulling of a hard fought victory in his first ever road start, it's probably something people will continue to wonder about for some time.
But honestly at this point who really cares?
Does it really matter why he wasn't initially named the starter or that he just led OU to only their second ever win against Notre Dame in what just so happened to be his second ever start (and first on the road)?
However, make no mistake this was a group effort from a well-rounded OU offense. Bell deserves his recognition, and will get it, but it would be a disservice to the offense as a whole not to credit them collectively.
And to that point we'll start with the unit that typically gets ignore . . .
The Offensive Line
Oklahoma's offensive line was, well quite frankly, embarrassed in the game last year against the Irish and you could tell from their play on Saturday they were on a mission to redeem themselves. Namely OU's All-American center Gabe Ikard and the behemoth of a man he faced every down in Notre Dame's Louis Nix. Now to be fair, Ikard frequently received help from his interior line mates but on numerous occasions more than held his own in a match-up few could say the same for last year.
While the yards weren't necessarily always easy to come by, behind this OU offensive line Bell and the running backs were able to amass over 200 yards in total rushing. Needless to say, a massive improvement from the meager fifteen they managed to put up in last year's meeting with the Irish.
That's plural for a reason and one in which you all already know. We'll get to Bell in a second, but Trevor Knight coming in cold off the bench and leading the offense to a scoring drive shouldn't be ignored. That said, it also shouldn't lead to people calling for some kind of specialized package for him to run within this offense. There may or may not come a time for something like that, but given how well Bell is managing this offense now is most certainly not it.
Back to the man of the hour, there were so many instances in this game where the difference between Bell and Landry Jones were magnified and how significant of a role they played in these two respective games against Notre Dame. Whether he was picking up positive yards rushing the football or adeptly buying time in the pocket (and not freaking out and/or going into the fetal position) only to find an open receiver down the field, Bell certainly did not look the part of a quarterback making his first ever road start. It was an incredibly impressive performance, if for no other reason than from a composure standpoint. And while he certainly wasn't perfect, missing a handful of throws he could have easily made, it would be nitpicking simply for the sake of nitpicking to focus on such minor details.
The Running Backs
There is a reason Damien Williams was the starting back on this team last year and will very likely be playing on Sundays this time next year. Whatever the reasons for his suspension two weeks ago against Tulsa, his return was a welcome one and showed why he is such a valuable asset to this OU offense.
Which is meant as no disrespect to Brennan Clay, the team's leading rusher on Saturday (77 yards on 14 carries), who ran hard and picked up a couple first downs in the fourth quarter to help ice the game. Also very happy to see him return to the game after suffering a scary helmet-to-helmet hit that was very appropriately flagged and led to the Notre Dame defender's ejection. Especially considering Clay's history with concussions which many attribute to his delayed development after suffering from a severe concussion early in his freshman year.
What can you even really say about Trey Millard at this point? It was vindication to so many within Sooner Nation to watch the television broadcast and for someone, Mike Mayock, who actually knows what to watch for and what they're talking about give Millard the credit he so very much deserves. The guy is just a devastating lead blocker and that was once again on display Saturday on countless occasions. If you love the game of football and aren't a huge fan of Trey Millard, there is simply something wrong with you.
The Wide Receivers
It was obvious from the early going that this 2013 game plan was going to closely resemble that of 2012 and it would be up to the OU receivers to make yards after the catch. And on almost every occasion they proved up to the task. Certainly some of that credit needs to go to Bell for getting them the ball in position to make those plays, but once the ball is in their hands it's up to them to make something happen and they did Saturday against the Irish.
On no other play was that more evident than when Sterling Shepard took an innocent enough looking shallow crossing route (on 3rd and three, mind you) and turned it into a 54-yard touchdown. All while making the Notre Dame defense look like they were standing in quicksand (or their ridiculously pathetic excuse for a playing surface they call "grass").
Jalen Saunders wasn't quite as busy on Saturday as he was in the game last year, but still managed to make an impact. Jaz Reynolds only had one catch, but it produced a first down. And Lacoltan Bester also only recorded one catch, but made it count when Bell missed him on his initial route before improvising and hauling one in for a touchdown.
While there were some aspects of the offensive performance to take issue with -- stalling in the red zone & the inability to convert on short yardage -- it's difficult not to feel confident with this offense going forward under the leadership of Blake Bell.
Following the win in South Bend, the question to be asked isn't why Blake Bell wasn't named the starter from the outset. The question that should be asked is just how far can he take this team in what many going into the season had labeled a probably 'reload' year and is rapidly shaping up to be another potential BCS appearance type year.
We'll have to wait and see on the latter, but there is no more waiting required on Bell. This is his team and his offense and on Saturday afternoon in South Bend, he proved it is in very capable hands.
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