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Belldozer takes over helm of Sooner offense

Joseph Monardo | Wednesday, September 25, 2013

On first-and-goal, Blake Bell began moving to his right immediately following the shotgun snap, evaded two Irish defenders, lowered his shoulder into freshman cornerback Keivarae Russell and stretched for the end zone. In Notre Dame’s seventh game of the year, Oklahoma’s short-yardage quarterback used all of his 6-foot-6, 252-pound frame to run through the stalwart Irish defense for the first time in 2012. 

“You don’t get the nickname Belldozer for no reason,” Irish junior linebacker Jarrett Grace said.

Despite only recording four carries and throwing a single pass, the Belldozer made his mark on last year’s contest in Norman, Okla. This year, the redshirt junior quarterback will be at the helm of a productive Sooner offense as the team travels to Notre Dame (3-1). 

Having begun the season as the backup to redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, Bell made his first career start against Tulsa on Sept. 14. After Knight had compiled only 205 passing yards total on a 43.8-percent completion rate in Oklahoma’s opening two contests, Bell connected on 27-of-37 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns. He added 24 yards on the ground. 

“You know, the quarterback position now seems to be solved in their minds, and a challenge there, as well, with Bell,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said in his weekly press conference Tuesday. “He’s a guy that obviously can give them the dual threat that you’re looking at at the quarterback position today in college football.”

The Sooners (3-0) surround Bell with a dynamic receiving corps, led by sophomore Sterling Shepard, redshirt senior Jaz Reynolds and senior Jalen Saunders. In Bell’s first week as the starting quarterback, Shepard hauled in eight passes for 123 yards and found the endzone twice against Tulsa. Reynolds caught four balls for 109 yards while Saunders came down with three completions for 47 yards and a score. 

Bell’s performance in his debut week at the helm of the Sooner offense showed his ability to do more than just run it between the tackles, Kelly said. 

“He threw it to really fast receivers,” he said. “He’s got an outstanding receiving corps. You know, he’s got a nice touch on the ball, a good presence about him. He looked like a thrower, not a runner. I know he’s a big, physical strong kid, and I think he was used last year more in the goal line offense. He’s much more than a goal line offense quarterback. He’s a skilled passer of the football, and I think he maybe got a reputation that is not really fitting of who he is. I think he was a five star quarterback, and he can throw the football. There’s no question about that.”

The Sooners are still adjusting to life without Landry Jones, who finished his career with Oklahoma last year as the team’s all-time leading passer. The current Pittsburgh Steeler finished with 12,218 yards and 92 touchdowns while completing 62.69-percent of his passes. In last year’s 30-13 loss to Notre Dame, Jones compiled 356 yards, but threw one interception against no touchdowns. 

Now with a dual-threat quarterback under center for the Sooners, Notre Dame will rely on its experiences defending mobile quarterbacks already this year. After Temple quarterback Connor Reilly accumulated 293 total yards against the Irish in the season opener and Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner finished with 376 yards in the Big House, Notre Dame limited dual-threat quarterback Connor Cook of Michigan State to only 135 yards through the air and four yards rushing. 

“Again, I think from a scheme standpoint, they put you in a position where you have to cover a lot of different scenarios,” Kelly said.

“We’ve had that for the last couple of weeks. Our staff and [defensive coordinator Bob] Diaco has done a great job of formulating the plan, and we’re going to have to have another great one this weekend.”

Still, the Irish realize they will have show up ready to play on game day against Bell and the prestigious Oklahoma program, Grace said.

“Oklahoma’s a whole new set of challenges,” he said. “They have that dual-threat ability … so we just have to be very assignment correct, because they’ve got a lot of dangerous weapons. 

“We are going to expect their very best on Saturday.”

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu