NORMAN — After Tuesday night's practice wrapped up, Oklahoma quarterback Blake Bell and several receivers stayed out on the field, getting some extra work in.
The group worked on deep balls, something the Sooners haven't had much success with so far this season, even during their 5-0 start.
In Saturday's 36-20 loss to Texas, OU didn't try to go downfield much, and when the Sooners did, they didn't have much success.
More concerning, though, was that the poise that Bell showed in wins over Tulsa and Notre Dame has seemed to fade away over the last two games against TCU and Texas.
“The first couple of starts, he was very calm, very confident, poised, decisive with the football,” Sooners co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “The last week, I didn't like what type of position he was in in the pocket. That let to him not being accurate with the football the way he is capable of. I felt like, as the game went on, he may (have) pressed a little bit. You can't do that at that position.”
Bell threw his first two interceptions of the season against the Longhorns, with one returned for a touchdown and another leading to Texas' final score.
“I haven't been that uncomfortable,” Bell said. “Obviously there's been times when you get pressure from a defense. There were a few times against Texas I was backing up when I was trying to throw the ball.”
Two came on back-to-back passing attempts in the third quarter. On the first, Bell felt pressure from the collapsing pocket, threw with his body parallel to the line of scrimmage and couldn't get much on the throw.
The result was a pass that sailed over Jalen Saunders, didn't get to Lacoltan Bester and instead hit Texas' Duke Thomas right in the numbers for the Longhorns' second interception of the day.
To start the next drive, Bell pump-faked initially, then tried to throw the ball away under pressure.
Again, Bell's feet weren't in position to get much on the throw and the pass was nearly intercepted near the sideline.
Bell has the arm for the throws. When the Sooners did try to go downfield Saturday, the balls were much more often overthrown than underthrown. That was also the case against TCU the week before.
“I believe Blake throws a good deep ball,” Sooners coach Bob Stoops said. “We've got to get more of them out there and hopefully find more space for them.”
Oklahoma doesn't need to throw long as often as it did when Landry Jones and Sam Bradford were quarterbacking the Sooners, but defenses have adjusted to the lack of a downfield passing threat.
Co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said he remembers hearing the same criticisms that are being directed Bell's way when Jones was early in his career.
“It's something that doesn't happen that often but when it does, you've got to make people pay,” Norvell said. “We're working toward that.
“Blake has done a pretty good job throwing the deep ball. We've just got to do a better job of executing and finishing. I don't know that there's any magic to it. He does a good job in practice.”
Oklahoma's passing problems certainly don't all rest on Bell's shoulders.
On the first drive of the Texas game, Brennan Clay dropped what would've been a 17-yard touchdown pass. Sooners receivers struggled to get open against the Longhorns' tight coverage. Several times that coverage led to plays breaking down and Bell taking a sack.
Bell said the offense, especially with the passing game, was out of rhythm.
They should get the chance to correct some things Saturday when the Sooners play at Kansas.
The Jayhawks have the third-worst passing defense in the Big 12.
Both Heupel and Bell said the passing game was close to having significant success.
“It's little things,” Bell said. “It's close to breaking out like that.
“I'm still learning some stuff and I know other guys are still learning. Once we put it all together, we'll be all right.”