Signature performance for Oklahoma's Bell
SOUTH BEND - He has the nickname. The goal line touchdowns have come before. But now Blake Bell has a signature moment as a starting quarterback.
In true “Belldozer style,” the moment isn’t so much about his arm. It’s about the toughness the 6-foot-6, 252-pound redshirt junior displayed down the stretch against No. 22 Notre Dame in a big-time road victory for No. 12 Oklahoma.
Cramps started creeping up Bell’s legs late in the third quarter. After being knocked to the ground by Notre Dame linebacker Prince Shembo on a first down incompletion, Bell moved slowly, working his left leg between plays. The cramps were coming, but unfortunately for Bell, so was a designed quarterback run.
He stayed in the game, rushed for 11 yards and a first down but couldn’t get back up. The pain in his leg was too severe, and trainers worked on him on the field before ushering him to the locker room.
With a 27-14 lead, Oklahoma was left to play without its starting quarterback for the remainder of the third quarter.
“I just really wanted to stop cramping. I was cramping the whole time,” Bell said. “The trainers did a good job just getting me in and getting some fluids in me and then I got back out there. Obviously as a player you don’t want to leave the game, but I had to do what I had to do.”
Bell was sequestered to the innards of Notre Dame Stadium with little idea of what was happening with his team. He emerged from the locker room early in the fourth quarter, and soon saw his lead shrink to 27-21. An easy finish wasn’t unfolding for Bell and his rehydrated body.
Rust didn’t come with Bell’s renewed hydration. He completed his first three passes upon return, the third for a 54-yard touchdown to Sterling Shepard. Bell found his wide receiver cutting open across the middle less than 10 yards downfield and Shepard did the rest. A two-point conversion to Shepard gave the Sooners a stronger grip on the game with a 35-21 lead.
“Sterling did a great job of getting open,” Bell said of the touchdown. “The offensive line did a great job all night protecting on the blitz and stuff like that. I just put it out there for him and he did the rest.”
Don’t tell OU center Gabe Ikard who deserves the credit. He believes in the legend of the “Belldozer.”
“He’s like a folk hero, man,” Ikard said. “He goes out and all of a sudden comes back and throws a strike to Shep for the touchdown. He was battling today. He got some tough yards with his feet. He took some big hits.”
“He was really sharp,” said head coach Bob Stoops. “He put the ball where it needed to be, finding the right guys, going through his reads."
Bell, making his second career start after being named a backup to start the season, delivered on 22 of his 30 pass attempts for 232 yards and two touchdowns. He added 12 carries for 59 yards rushing.
The first Bell touchdown pass came in the final minute of the first half. On first-and-10 from the Irish 26-yard line, Bell surveyed the field looking for an open receiver. He bought time in the pocket, stepped up and hit Lacoltan Bester running open in the end zone to allow the Sooners to take a 14-point lead into half.
“I don't want to say he's like (Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben) Roethlisberger, but you're not going to drag him down if you just have his shirt,” Stoops said. “He can get away from some things and make some positive yards off of some scrambles. I love that he bought time to find Lacoltan Bester in the end zone. He was going to run, and then saw it break open and threw it to him late in the play."
With his 11 rushing touchdowns last season, the Sooners knew they had a goal line threat in Blake Bell. Now they might be sure they have found a starting quarterback.
“He’s a gamer,” Ikard said. “For him to bounce back from not getting the starting job and play the way he has the last two games is just phenomenal. I’m very proud of him and the way he’s played for us. I’m glad that big guy’s on our team.”