Defense, run game proving invaluable for Sooners amid QB questions

Bob Stoops and Oklahoma love to remind anyone who’ll listen about the program’s eight Big 12 titles, and how it won them with six different quarterbacks. It’s won two games so far in 2013, but on Saturday, will start its second different quarterback when Blake Bell steps in for Trevor Knight on Saturday vs. Tulsa. Knight was both injured (knee) and benched in last week’s 16-7 win over West Virginia.

The Sooners have rarely dealt with questions about who would man the position under Bob Stoops. Landry Jones followed Sam Bradford and both spent the majority of their careers looking like one of the nation’s best quarterbacks.

Knight struggled with accuracy and decision-making against the Mountaineers, throwing a pair of interceptions deep in West Virginia territory. Through two games, he’s completed just 43.8 percent of his 48 passes for 205 yards, giving the Sooners the closest thing to a full-blown quarterback crisis we’ve seen in Norman in some time.

“They all can run, they all can throw and they’re all athletic,” Stoops said of his quarterbacks. Knight’s injury put him on the shelf for 1-2 weeks, but Kendal Thompson rejoined practice on Monday after breaking his foot early in fall camp.

“There isn’t much of a difference between them as far as their skill set and what they can do.”

That uncertainty isn’t good, but Knight’s shortcomings through two games have distracted from one big truth: It hasn’t mattered so far.

A resurgent defense and a powerful, efficient running game have assured it.

“They’ve been really strong in that they’re doing a great job communicating, being on everybody being strong mentally in what we’re doing and not having any busted assignments, playing physical, playing fast and running to the ball,” Stoops said of his defense.

The last time we saw the Sooner defense, it was getting embarrassed in a 41-13 loss in January. Heisman winner Johnny Manziel accounted for 500 yards, and the Sooners defense gave up at least 40 points in three of its final four games. Outside of a 75-yard touchdown run aided by missed tackles on Saturday, Oklahoma hasn’t given up a point since. It ranks second in the Big 12 at 4.39 yards per play and is fourth nationally in scoring.

“We’ve got eight new starters on defense, so the growth is still happening. It’s really not fair to compare them to last year’s group since most of them weren’t out there,” Stoops said. “So that’s the biggest difference. It’s a lot of new guys. We’re probably faster at every position.”

Knight hasn’t looked comfortable yet and Bell wasn’t asked to do much more than hand off to protect a two-possession lead on Saturday. Brennan Clay and the running game were the biggest reason why.

“I believe in myself. I’ve known the whole time. It’s just a matter of being able to get on the field and be 100 percent healthy,” said Clay, who has 213 yards and a touchdown in two games. “There aren’t any nicks on my body, and I feel really comfortable out there.”

Baylor’s Lache Seastrunk is the only player in the Big 12 with more rushing yards than Clay, who has averaged more than seven yards a carry. Damien Williams has added 161 yards, too. Stoops maintained the running game had plenty of room for improvement, but in the meantime, it has given Oklahoma a lot more time to sort out its quarterback issue.

“As players, we know that whoever our starting quarterback is will get the job done, and we have faith in him, we can rely on him, and we know he’s going to lead our offense,” Clay said.