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Oklahoma Football: Breaking Down The Sooners And The Golden Hurricane

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NORMAN, Oklahoma -

Regardless of what it may seem, there are other things going on in the college football world this week besides Sports Illustrated's report on Oklahoma State football and the titanic rematch in College Station between Alabama and Texas A&M.

The Oklahoma Sooners have an intriguing matchup of their own this week, but not because of the opponent—no offense to the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. With starting quarterback Trevor Knight out for a week or two with a sprained MCL and PCL, junior Blake Bell will make his first collegiate start against Tulsa in Norman on Saturday.

Knight's injury allowed OU coach Bob Stoops an easy way out of addressing the controversy that has sprouted thanks to Knight's lackluster performances in the first two games. Instead of having to choose between two healthy quarterbacks and make a decision based on performance, Stoops got to make the obvious choice without clarifying his true feelings about who should be OU's quarterback going forward.

At his press conference earlier this week, Stoops didn't say what his decision would have been had he been choosing between two healthy quarterbacks, but he also didn't commit to Knight returning from his injury as the starting quarterback.

With Knight on the sidelines, unable to do anything to help his cause, Saturday's game against Tulsa becomes an open audition for Bell. It's the perfect opportunity for him, one that may not have come if Knight hadn't been injured against West Virginia.

In college football, especially at big programs like Oklahoma, opportunities like this don't come along very often. This could be a defining moment for Bell, one that could catapult him to a different level of player and help him become more than just the Belldozer.

Three questions for Oklahoma:

1. How will Blake Bell perform in his first start?

This is the perfect opportunity for Bell to grab the starting job and hold on to it for the rest of the season. Plenty of people felt Bell should have been named the starter to begin with thanks to his experience, but Knight evidently was more impressive in practice. Now, Bell gets to draw on the thing he has a huge advantage in over Knight: game experience. While Knight seemed to cave a bit under the pressures of real game action, Bell has already been in pressure situations and knows what to expect. If he can put up decent passing numbers—clearly the biggest problem for the OU offense right now—the starting job will be his.

2. Is OU run defense really improved?

The Sooners have given up an average of 103.5 rushing yards per game through the first two games of the season, but now faces what, on paper, should be its stiffest test of the year. OU gave up just 38 yards on the ground to ULM, before giving up 169 yards to West Virginia a week ago. However, nearly half of those came on a 75-yard touchdown run from Dreamius Smith. Tulsa running backs Trey Watts and Ja'Terian Douglas have combined to rush for 225 yards this year after rushing for 2,044 yards a year ago. They clearly miss bruiser Alex Singleton and a veteran offensive line, but they're still very dangerous and the Sooners will have to prove themselves against these talented backs.

3. Will OU passing game finally get off the ground?

The biggest problem with the OU offense through two games has been the passing game. Trevor Knight was out of sync with his receivers and made some poor decisions that resulted in interceptions against West Virginia. Blake Bell has had much more time to develop chemistry with the receiving corps, but he has yet to show off his arm in a game. The Sooners will most likely continue to pound the ball on the ground to open up the play action, but it will be up to Bell to make the throws.

Three players to watch for Tulsa:

1. Cody Green- quarterback

Green is a veteran and has revived his career at Tulsa after transferring from Nebraska after the 2010 season. This will be the second time the Sooners have faced Green—he started for Nebraska against the Sooners in 2009, a game the Huskers won 10-3. Green hasn't been terrific this year, but rebounded from a dreadful performance against Bowling Green to start the season by passing for 212 yards and three touchdowns last week against Colorado State. He no longer has Keyarris Garrett, his favorite receiver who broke his leg against the Rams, but he has several quality targets on the outside.

2. Trey Watts- running back

The son of former OU quarterback J.C. Watts is one of the more underrated running backs in the country. Not only is he a great runner, but he's also a great pass-catcher out of the backfield. In fact, Watts is the Golden Hurricane's leading receiver through two games with 13 receptions. He's had some trouble returning punts so far this year, fumbling away an opportunity in each of the first two games. After a rough game against Bowling Green, Watts ran for 153 yards against Colorado State and seems to be hitting his stride for a big senior season.

3. Shawn Jackson- linebacker

Jackson was one of just three starters returning for Tulsa on defense, and when Demarco Nelson was ruled ineligible before the season opener, he was left as one of just two. He hasn't disappointed, racking up 10 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and an interception in the first two games. He's not leading the team in any of those categories, but he's the unquestioned leader of the defense and is always around the ball. The OU offensive line will need to pay attention to the big linebacker—listed at 6-feet, 251 pounds—in order to keep the OU offense clicking on all cylinders.

Key matchup: Blake Bell vs. Tulsa secondary

The Golden Hurricane is a surprising 16th in the country through two games in pass defense, allowing a meager 135.5 yards per game. The Sooners are 110th in passing offense, averaging 121.5 yards per game in the new offensive system. On paper, it's not a good look, but games aren't played on paper. The Tulsa secondary is very young and has played two teams with poor passing offenses. Bell has shown he has a great arm and had a terrific spring game throwing the football. He'll need to keep Tulsa honest by hitting a few passes early to keep the Golden Hurricane from stacking the box to stop the run.

Prediction: Oklahoma 35, Tulsa 13

Bonus: Blake Bell throws for 250 yards and secures the starting job for the rest of the season.

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