NORMAN — Sometime late in the third quarter, after the OU defense kept turning back West Virginia and the Sooner run game kept churning out yardage with no help from the passing game, Bob Stoops figured out that no way could the Mountaineers win this game.
But the Sooners could lose it.
So out went Trevor Knight, in came Blake Bell and the Sooners went home 16-7 winners Saturday at Owen Field. And the quarterback derby is on again.
Who will start next Saturday against Tulsa? Who knows, after Knight threw two third-quarter interceptions that kept this game much closer than it needed to be? Stoops and Josh Heupel aren't saying, and that's in part because they don't know.
When a squad rushes for 316 yards, it should have scored more than 16 points.
“It oughtta be easier than it's been,” Stoops said.
Knight threw interceptions on back-to-back passes deep in West Virginia territory, and coaches' confidence in their redshirt freshman quarterback vanished. In Knight's next two series, he handed off five straight times, then threw deep, into the end zone, on third-and-long, a play in which an interception would not have been a killer anyway.
And then Knight was done. Bell came in, directed two time-consuming drives (in which he threw only one pass himself) and OU got the field goal it needed to make the lead safe.
“We're going to need to throw it better,” said Heupel, OU's offensive coordinator, who is accustomed to accurate quarterbacks who won't get you beat. Knight absolutely deserves some learning-curve time, but through two games, he's completed 21 of 48 passes, and he had three turnovers against West Virginia, all on plays inside the Mountaineer 30-yard line.
If this OU team needed a big-time quarterback, Heupel and Stoops might automatically stick with Knight and let him play through his tribulations. His running ability — which shined at times against the Mountaineers — gives Knight the bigger upside. But this 2013 Sooner team has shown through two games that it can run the ball and play some defense, two staples not always in abundance in recent years. Just get some decent quarterbacking, and the Sooners could be a load.
“I'm not sure that's the way I'm going to phrase it,” Heupel said. “We want our guys to play extremely well.”
Bell supplied the decent quarterbacking. “He managed the game well,” Heupel said. “Handled himself well.”
But it's not like Heupel unlocked the playbook for Bell. He basically ran expanded Belldozer plays. Bell played 16 snaps; he ran twice (gained 10 yards both times) and threw the screen pass that Brennan Clay dropped.
It's obvious what happened on the Sooner sideline. Stoops said let's put this game in the deep freeze and reassess the quarterback situation later. On those final two Bell drives, the Sooners ran off 4:34 and 5:22 from the clock. No hurryup. No vaunted spread. Just power football, with minimal quarterback influence, like it was 1966.
The company line that Knight is a skilled passer is losing credibility by the game. Of course, we haven't seen enough of Bell to know how he fares flinging it around.
But we saw enough of Knight on Saturday night to know he didn't secure the ball enough. Two interceptions and a fumble on a play in which he held the ball too long.
Seems like it's time to find out how Bell handles the saddle.
Certainly, being inserted into a save situation signals that Stoops and Heupel are thinking long and hard about a quarterback change.
“Some things happened in the third quarter that you just can't do,” Heupel said.
Stoops even reminded us that he declared the quarterback competition tight throughout August. And Stoops Saturday night wasn't nearly as defensive about quarterback questions as he was in August. Seemed to be opening the door for Bell.
“Just feel things weren't quite as good as they needed to be in the throwing game,” Stoops said. “Wanted to give (Bell) a chance.”
Looks like there will be more chances to come.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.