LAWRENCE, Kan. — Blake Bell felt plenty of pressure in the week leading up to Saturday's 34-19 win over Kansas.
Pressure to bounce back from the lackluster performance against Texas the week before. Pressure to perform well in his home state in front of plenty of folks from his hometown of Wichita. Pressure to prove that the Sooners could throw the ball downfield. Pressure to move the ball effectively on the ground after not being used much in that regard against the Longhorns.
Bell's performance against the Jayhawks was far from perfect — he didn't progress through his reads quick enough at times and missed on a few opportunities to run the ball when plays broke down — but it was a step forward.
“There's still a lot of plays out there to be made,” Bell said. “I think we're going in the right direction.”
There were a few of those plays, but two stood out.
In the third quarter, Bell threw a fourth-down interception on a play where he had both Trey Millard and Aaron Ripkowski open.
In the fourth, Bell couldn't get the ball away in time and was called for an intentional grounding penalty that helped set up a Jayhawks' blocked punt that put Kansas back in the game.
Overall, though, Bell was better Saturday than he had been in the last two weeks — a win over TCU and the loss to Texas.
He showed that in the second quarter with the Sooners down 13-0 and reeling.
Bell completed all three of his passes on the Sooners second drive of the quarter, the second a 25-yarder to Jalen Saunders on a post route that energized OU's offense.
Two plays later, he picked up a blitz and quickly hit Jaz Reynolds for a 16-yard touchdown to get Oklahoma on the board and turn the tide the Sooners' way.
Bell said that drive was the best he's thrown all year.
“We've been working on stuff like that all week and just working with those guys after practice to get that stuff down.
“When we do stuff like that, execute like that, that's how we can run the offense.”
The pass to Reynolds was Bell's first touchdown pass since the win at Notre Dame in late September.
He finished Saturday 15 of 25 with a pair of touchdowns and one interception.
“When things aren't there, he tends to want to hold it and make something happen and at time, I think, ‘Hey, we've just gotta let it go and live to fight another set of downs,'” Bob Stoops said. “But overall, I thought it was pretty good.”
He also ran for 53 yards after losing 27 yards with the help of four sacks against Texas.
“I always have a great time running the football, especially running the ball downhill and staying ahead of the chains is always good for the offense,” Bell said.
The Sooners still want more from the quarterback spot though. Bell was 3 for 7 on converting third downs with his arm, though two of the missed conversions came with more than 20 yards to go.
“He's capable of playing better than he did today,” OU co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “At times he played really well and at other times, he could play better, especially in some of those have-to pass situations.”