NORMAN — Inspired by the newest trends — and, obviously, a Cotton Bowl beatdown from Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel — Bob Stoops and his staff decided to go mobile at the quarterback position.
The Sooners introduced a heavy dose of the read option into their offense, taking advantage of their quarterbacks' increased quickness and athleticism. But only a game and a half into this new experiment, a West Virginia defender's helmet crashed into Trevor Knight's knee.
Junior Blake Bell will start Saturday's game against Tulsa while Knight recovers.
“Was I aware that it could happen? Sure. We're not fools,” Stoops responded when asked if this scenario concerned him while they installed the new offense.
“A lot of people seem to do it and it works pretty well. Every now and then that's going to happen.”
Of course, quarterbacks of all types are subject to injury. Landry Jones became the starter after Sam Bradford was hurt standing in the pocket.
Elite pocket passers like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have also suffered major injuries during their NFL careers. But in those systems, the goal is always to avoid giving defenses opportunities to pop the quarterback.
On option plays, signal callers are left wide open to contact, even if they choose to hand or pitch the ball to a running back.
Longtime Oklahoma high-school football official David Gore, who also works in an off-the-field role at Big 12 Conference games, said rules at every level of football allow a defender to tackle the quarterback, even after he's given the ball to someone else.
“With an effective option quarterback, if you just assume he's gonna hand the ball off, he'll eat you alive,” Gore said. “You have the opportunity to go ahead and go through with a tackle whether the quarterback has just handed the ball off or not.”
J.W. Walsh has given Oklahoma State a running threat at quarterback this year, but Cowboys coach Mike Gundy has admitted being leery of such signal callers since the Zac Robinson era ended in 2009.
Robinson was one of the most effective quarterbacks in school history, but was also beaten, battered and a shell of his former self by the end of his career.
BYU sophomore quarterback Taysom Hill torched the Texas defense for 259 rushing yards in last week's upset, but his 2012 season ended in early October after taking a helmet directly to his knee.
Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez left the Cornhuskers' season-opening win over Wyoming with a shoulder injury after an early third-quarter run.
“We try to do a really good job of educating and letting our quarterbacks understand that they can't take hits,” said OU co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. “(Knight) took one that caught up with him.”
Knight, Bell and sophomore Kendal Thompson battled in an intense quarterback competition through the spring and summer. A foot injury in early August cost Thompson a chance to start the opener, but he returned to practice this week and will be available Saturday against Tulsa.
“I've said this from the very beginning to all those guys — the strength of that position is going to have to be the group,” Heupel said. “I would say that every year, but it's certainly true this year with an injury.”