Consider Saturday an experiment for the Oklahoma football team.
While no one is suggesting the Sooners will lose to Kansas, there are plenty of issues that need to be settled.
Here are three things Oklahoma will be trying to figure out vs. Kansas:
1. What are they going to get out of Blake Bell? So far we’ve seen two different kinds of games from Bell. He was great against Tulsa and dreadful against Texas. Against Tulsa, Bell looked confident. Against Texas, Bell looked lost. He went three starts in a row without a turnover and threw a pair of dreadful interceptions against Texas in the 36-20 loss.
While most would say the important question is will the Sooner coaches yank Bell if he doesn’t preform, honestly that doesn’t seem like a real possibility. My guess is Bob Stoops has made up his mind. He’s already made one change at quarterback this season, going with Bell over Knight in the fourth quarter of the win against West Virginia. If Stoops makes another change it will give the impression he’s panicking. Maybe he needs to panic, but Stoops doesn’t want to come off looking like he can’t make up his mind.
The good news for Bell is Kansas should be a great opportunity for Bell to get some confidence back. Don’t be surprised if he runs it more, too. OU coaches will want to re-establish his identity as a forceful runner, something Bell wasn’t a week ago.
Everyone will say Bell needs to be on a short leash, but if he wasn’t pulled against Texas, in a game the Sooners may have well come back and won, there’s no reason to think Bell will be taken out against Kansas. This is his team — like it or not. 2. What are they going to get out of their defense? Uh, oh. What’s going to happen with the Sooner defense now that they were beaten up a bit against Texas. While it wasn’t entirely their fault — playing without linebacker Corey Nelson and tackle Jordan Phillips didn’t’ help — the Kansas game will give everyone a really good indicator of what to expect the rest of the way.
It was a productive first half of the season until the Texas game for the Oklahoma defense, and maybe part of that was based on the competition. Tulsa, West Virginia, even Notre Dame, and certainly TCU have not been great offensive teams this season. However, it seemed like the Sooners were more active and it seemed like, regardless of numbers, the defense was better. But OU was exposed on third downs against Texas and a pair of runners went for more than 100 yards.
With Phillips and Nelson gone for the season, the defensive question is whether OU will be like the 2012 and 2011 teams that imploded late in the season or has there really been improvement. Again, the Kansas game isn’t the best barometer, but if the Jayhawks start moving the ball and having success, we may know our answer.
3. Who is the running back going to be? If things going the way they are supposed to go Saturday, Oklahoma will win easily. That means there should be plenty of opportunity to run the ball. Not only will that take a lot of the pressure off of Blake Bell, but it will give lots of guys lots of carries.
Who they’ll go to is the next thing to try and figure out.
Brennan Clay started the season as the go-to guy, but Clay isn’t the kind of runner who turns a lot of heads, despite the fact he had the game-clinching, 75-yard touchdown run against TCU. Trey Millard was noticeably absent carrying the ball the first five games, but he had seven carries against Texas. There’s Damien Williams and Roy Finch, too. All have had their moments. Feel free to add Keith Ford to the list, too. Ford runs differently than the rest of the OU backs and has quickly become a fan favorite.
Not saying the Sooners need to settle on a single running back, but the Kansas game will be an audition for the group. Bet that the coaches are looking for someone to emerge.