NORMAN, Okla. — Just in time for a showdown at Notre Dame, No. 14 Oklahoma has found itself a quarterback.
In his first career start, Blake Bell — who lost the starting job during the preseason — passed for 413 yards and four touchdowns in his first start for Oklahoma and the Sooners beat Tulsa 51-20 on Saturday.
“It was awesome,” Bell said. “I had a great time first of all, just getting out there and playing ball, there’s nothing better. . The only thing I wanted to do was be ready. I didn’t want to not be ready for this game. I felt like I did that. I felt like I played well out there.”
Sterling Shepard caught eight passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns — all career highs — and Jaz Reynolds had 109 yards receiving and one score for Oklahoma (3-0). The Sooners scored on their first five possessions against Tulsa (1-2) to continue their dominance in the series, having won 12 of the last 13 games between the in-state rivals.
The Sooners are 13-0 against Tulsa as a ranked team and 7-0 against the Golden Hurricane since Bob Stoops became Oklahoma’s coach in 1999.
Bell, a junior, lost a preseason competition to redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, but Knight struggled in the passing game in wins over Louisiana-Monroe and West Virginia. Knight bruised a knee against West Virginia, opening the door for Bell to start against Tulsa.
Oklahoma is 3-0 for the third time in four seasons, heading into a showdown in two weeks at No. 21 Notre Dame, which beat the Sooners last year in Norman. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said after the game that Bell would start against the Fighting Irish.
“That’s pretty obvious,” Stoops said. “So much for your controversy right now. It didn’t last long. You can’t deny what he just went out and did. I’m proud of him and excited for him. It also speaks to his character. Here’s a guy that was ready for it — never got down, never changed his attitude. He got his chance and he took great advantage of it.”
By halftime, Bell — who served as a short-yardage rushing specialist for the Sooners the past two seasons while backing up Landry Jones — was 15 of 21 for 281 yards and two touchdowns. His first-half yardage total was the second-most by an Oklahoma quarterback in the first half of his first career start. By comparison, Knight passed for 205 yards combined in his two starts.
Bell posted the highest passing-yardage total by any Oklahoma quarterback making his first start. By comparison, in the debuts of Oklahoma’s two most recent starting quarterbacks before Knight, Sam Bradford threw for 363 yards and three touchdowns in a 2007 romp over North Texas, while Jones had 286 yards passing and three TDs in a rout of Idaho State in 2009.
Bell — whose pre-game introduction received a rousing roar of approval from Oklahoma fans — finished 27 of 37 passing.
After he lost the preseason competition for the starting job, Bell said everyone told him he had to stay ready.
“That’s what I did,” Bell said. “I put my head down and went to work, because you never know what’s going to happen. I prepared every day like I could go in there at any time.”
Tulsa’s offense made a respectable showing against an Oklahoma defense that allowed a combined seven points in its first two games. Quarterback Cody Green completed 17 of 33 for 226 yards, while Trey Watts rushed for 60 yards on 14 carries, caught five passes for 65 yards and returned a punt 77 yards to set up a field goal. Jordan James caught six passes for 100 yards for Tulsa.
“We were more consistent on offense,” Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship said. “We still had a critical turnover that hurt us. We dropped a pass that might have been another big play. We just have real high standards. I think we are an improving football team but we got exposed on defense today.”
Bell was 3 for 4 on Oklahoma’s first drive, which Brennan Clay ended with a 4-yard touchdown run. On the Sooners’ next series, Bell hit Reynolds in stride for an 82-yard gain which became the longest non-scoring pass play in Oklahoma history when Tulsa cornerback Darnell Walker Jr. hauled down Reynolds at the 4. Oklahoma settled for a 20-yard field goal by Michael Hunnicutt.
Tulsa answered with an 80-yard touchdown drive, aided by two Oklahoma penalties in the end zone. On one of them, safety Gabe Lynn initially was ejected for targeting, but the ejection was overturned after a video review. Still, the Golden Hurricane eventually scored on a 2-yard run by Watts, the son of former Oklahoma quarterback J.C. Watts.
A 41-yard gain on a bubble screen pass to Durron Neal set up Oklahoma’s next touchdown, a 3-yard pass from Bell to Shepard. Lynn intercepted Green on the Golden Hurricane’s next series and his return to the Tulsa 36 led to a 29-yard touchdown pass from Bell to tailback Roy Finch that made it 24-7.
Bell hit Shepard for 44 yards on Oklahoma’s next drive, leading to a 30-yard field goal by Hunnicutt. The end of the half stopped Oklahoma’s sixth drive, but the Sooners opened the second half with a 35-yard scoring pass from Bell to Shepard that was set up by a 41-yard punt return by Jalen Saunders.
Oklahoma didn’t punt until its eighth possession. Watts returned the punt 77 yards to the Oklahoma 9, but Tulsa settled for a 21-yard field goal by Carl Salazar that made it 34-13.
NOTES: The 82-yard reception by Reynolds in the first quarter was the longest by an Oklahoma player since Cameron Kinney caught an 86-yard pass against Oklahoma State on Oct. 27, 2010. It was the second-longest ever at Owen Field, trailing only an 86-yard catch by Wahoo McDaniel vs. West Virginia on Sept. 27, 1958. . The Sooners played without cornerback Aaron Colvin, who was kicked in the jaw during the West Virginia game, and running back Damien Williams, who didn’t suit up after being suspended for the game for violating team rules. . Lynn didn’t play in the second half after limping off the field following his interception. . Tulsa LB Shawn Jackson had three tackles for loss, giving him 41 1-2 for his career, breaking the school record of 40 co-held by Don Blackmon (1976-1980) and Sam Rayburn (1999-2002). . Tulsa hasn’t beaten a top 15 team since knocking off Texas A&M in 1991. . The attendance was 84,229, marking the 89th straight sellout at Owen Field, a program record.