NORMAN — It was a curious moment in Oklahoma's curious 2011 season.
The Sooners had advanced to the 1-yard line on their opening drive against Kansas State on Oct. 29. Quarterback Landry Jones ran toward the sideline, Blake Bell ran toward the huddle.
What was happening, exactly? Sure, OU had endured its share of red zone and goal line ineptitude, but to the point of inserting a redshirt freshman quarterback to run the offense in short-yardage situations? Really?
Bell, all 6 foot 6 and 255 pounds of him, charged forward for a 1-yard touchdown bulrush and Oklahoma went on to rout K-State 58-17 on the road.
The Belldozer was born.
As the weeks went by, the package went from gimmick to staple. Bell rushed for 13 touchdowns, including three in the Insight Bowl win against Iowa.
Odd as it would have sounded in August, Bell – not Jones, a preseason Heisman favorite – was OU's bowl MVP.
“It's pretty much the most effective thing we had,” lineman Gabe Ikard said, looking surprised by the words as they left his mouth.
So, what's next for Bell and the Belldozer? Bell is a year older. Jones decided to return for his senior season. There are a lot of moving parts for a piece of the offense that went from quick fix to darn-near unstoppable.
“It's something that worked like we figured it would,” OU coach Bob Stoops said. “I can't say we're surprised about it.”
There could be more in store for the Belldozer – or it could go away altogether. That's the wide-ranging spectrum, according to Stoops.
If the Sooners run the ball more effectively in the red zone, which would seem to require Dominique Whaley to return with zest from his broken ankle, the package might be tabled. But Stoops said that would require “significant” improvement.
As far as spring work, the Belldozer got a boost when fullback Aaron Ripkowski was cleared to practice. Ripkowski, one of two fullbacks used in the formation, injured his back late in the season. Linebacker Jaydan Bird filled in admirably during the bowl game, but having Ripkowski healthy helps.
While the running aspect of it worked well, the passing wrinkles were a flop – albeit in limited attempts. An overthrow in the flat and an interception in the end zone stood out as negative results, but quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel laughed when asked if that was some sort of indictment on Bell as a passer.
He made sure it was clear that the Belldozer and more standard OU formations are quite different, in terms of timing and positioning for a passer. So, Bell's less-than-impressive rating in the Belldozer is no matter, really.
Then there's Jones. Does it bother the school's all-time leading passer, on any level, when Bell is the one who scores the touchdowns? Jones went from the Nov. 5 Texas A&M game to the bowl without a passing touchdown.
“Landry doesn't care,” Heupel said. “He wants to win. He wants to score points. He's over there celebrating when Blake goes in the end zone.
“He came back because he wants to be a champion, however we can accomplish that.”
There is some intrigue as to how Bell is being used this spring, beyond the Belldozer. One source said last week that Bell has been lining up some at tight end, while the team is short on experience and bodies at the position.
Heupel shot that down Monday when asked point blank. But on Wednesday a teammate walked up to Bell after practice and excitedly asked him why he had been playing some tight end. Bell, who has been restricted from the media, just kind of shrugged.
Bell was used somewhat unconventionally in 2011. Why not this year, too?
At the very least, it would send everyone back to the nickname drawing board.
BE WARY OF THE BELLDOZER
Struggling in short-yardage situations, particularly around the goal line, Oklahoma turned in 2011 to backup quarterback Blake Bell just past the midway point of the season. The result was the birth of the Belldozer – and one of the more successful functions of the Sooners' hit-and-miss offense. Bell ran 41 times after the advent of the package, scoring 13 touchdowns – averaging one every 3.2 rushes.
Five carries, 7 yards, one touchdown
Twelve carries, 37 yards, two touchdowns
Five carries, 16 yards, four touchdowns
Eight carries, 14 yards, two touchdowns
One carry, 28 yards, one touchdown
Iowa (Insight Bowl)
Ten carries, 51 yards, three touchdowns