SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame will see a different Blake Bell on Saturday.
The No. 22 Irish only saw only a glimpse of No. 14 Oklahoma’s starting quarterback last season in a 30-13 win in Norman, Okla.
Bell was used in goal-line situations behind last year’s starting quarterback Landry Jones. While Bell didn’t play much against Notre Dame, he did score the first rushing touchdown against the Irish on a 1-yard run in the fourth quarter.
With Jones gone, Oklahoma (3-0) started the season with Trevor Knight as the starter, but he suffered a knee injury, clearing the way for Bell.
He (Bell) has a full scholarship to Oklahoma, so he’s obviously a great quarterback, safety Matthias Farley said. He can extend plays. He’s physical. He can ignite the offense. He’s a complete quarterback.
Bell still has the rushing skills that earned him the nickname Belldozer after he ran for 24 touchdowns in his first two seasons with Oklahoma.
But he displayed a passing ability that wasn’t asked of him before when he completed 27 of 37 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns without an interception in his first start in a 51-20 win over Tulsa on Sept. 14.
He’s got a nice touch on the ball, a good presence about him, coach Brian Kelly said. 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.
Bell is still a threat in the running game. He has run for 55 yards on 14 carries this year and has 427 rushing yards for his career.
And at 6-foot-6, 252 pounds, Bell is difficult to simulate during practice. Notre Dame is using 5-11, 180-pound walk-on quarterback Will Cronin and 5-11, 182-pound cornerback Rashad Kinlaw as the scout team quarterbacks.
He’s not as big as Blake Bell. Sorry, Kelly said of Cronin.
Notre Dame (3-1) has gotten better at containing quarterbacks after struggling at the beginning of the season.
Temple’s Connor Reilly ran for 65 yards and threw for 228 yards in the season opener, and Michigan’s Devin Gardner ran for 82 yards and a touchdown and threw for 294 yards and four touchdowns the next week. Purdue’s Rob Henry passed for 256 yards with two touchdowns, but was held to 2 rushing yards.
And last week, the Irish bottled up Michigan State’s Connor Cook, who was limited to 135 passing yards and four rushing yards.
You’re put in a very difficult position when you can be running the football and have options to throw, as well, Kelly said. You know, that constant bind that the running quarterback gives you is a stress on your defense.
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.
Note: Kelly told reporters Thursday that Sheldon Day (ankle) will be available against Oklahoma.