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NORMAN, Okla. -- After the 2001 victory over Texas, the Sooners had big plans to run the quarterback.
They believed they had the right player in Jason White, especially after White flashed his wheels on Oklahoma's only touchdown drive in relief of starter Nate Hybl.
|Expect the "Belldozer" formation to stick around for the Sooners in 2013, even if Blake Bell wins the starting job.|
In the following game, White rushed for 117 yards in a win over Kansas. But two weeks later at Nebraska, he tore his ACL. OU ultimately scrapped those plans, as White morphed into a pocket passer with two bad knees.
Years later, those plans are back in the fold in Norman -- except only by happenstance.
Following the Sam Bradford and Landry Jones eras, all three OU quarterbacks vying for the starting job in 2013 can run. The Sooners ultimately recruited Blake Bell, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson because of their arms. But it turns out all three can really run, too.
"It just sort of happened," coach Bob Stoops said last week. "But we've always liked it when guys could run to go with the arm."
As explosive as the Sooners have been offensively with Bradford and Jones, one element that's been lacking out of the attack has been the threat of a running quarterback.
Stoops says that will "definitely" change next season, regardless of who wins the starting job.
"There will be more of that," he said of running the quarterback.
After two years operating the "Belldozer" running quarterback package, Bell is the favorite to be the starter. He has more experience than either Knight or Thompson in operating the base offense in practice and is the only one of the three to have experience on the field.
"Even though Blake's passes overall have been limited," Stoops said, "the action he's had the last two years of getting hit and being in critical situations, I think all of that matters in his development, too."
While the Belldozer sputtered against Texas A&M in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, it has been a highly effective gimmick overall because of Bell's running prowess. Bell already has 24 rushing touchdowns. He became the first player to rush for a touchdown against Notre Dame's defense this season. He also sent the Bedlam game to overtime with a fourth-down rushing touchdown in which he trucked Cowboys Caleb Lavey and Brodrick Brown to get to the end zone.
Even though he was a prolific high school passer, questions remain about Bell's throwing accuracy. But there are no doubts about Bell's ability to grind out yards on the ground.
Bell, however, won't just be handed the job. And if what some of the first-team defenders had to say about Knight is true, Bell could have a fight on his hands.
As the scout-team quarterback this year, Knight wowed the OU defense with his ability to produce something out of nothing both throwing and running. As the team prepared for the Cotton Bowl, Knight played the role of Texas A&M's Heisman Trophy-winning dual-threat quarterback Johnny Manziel, which is a decent comparison of Knight's skill set.
"They play the same way," outgoing defensive end R.J. Washington said.
Knight doesn't have Manziel's foot speed, but like Manziel, Knight showed similar instincts for crafting big plays outside of the pocket.
"Trevor did a great job this year," co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. "I think we're going to have a lot of competition next year at quarterback."
Yet while Knight has generated the most behind-the-scenes buzz, Stoops said Thompson is capable of making the quarterback derby a three-horse race.
Thompson might not be as polished as the other two. But he has the best quickness and foot speed and is renowned for being one of the hardest workers on the roster.
"Kendal has done a lot of good things," Stoops said. "Some really good things."
Whoever wins the job will be counted on to add an offensive element that gashed OU's defense this past season. Quarterback Collin Klein churned out 79 yards and a touchdown on the ground in Kansas State's win over the Sooners. Notre Dame's Everett Golson hurt OU with his legs, too, running for 64 yards and a touchdown in the Irish's 30-13 win in Norman. Baylor's Nick Florence and Oklahoma State's Clint Chelf kept the chains moving with their feet. And then in the Cotton Bowl, Manziel racked up 229 rushing yards and two touchdowns to ignite Texas A&M's rout of the Sooners.
It remains to be seen how -- and how much -- the Sooners will use their running quarterback.
Will they run some option, as they dabbled in with White years ago?
Will they go to more zone read, which Oregon has utilized to perfection over the years?
Will they call quarterback counters and powers -- as they have with the Belldozer package -- and keep operating out of the pistol or shotgun formations?
Or will they do all the above and sprinkle in some draws and play-action rollouts?
Those ideas will be hashed out in the coming months.
But one thing that does not need to be hashed out is this: The Sooners will be running their quarterback more next season. The Jason White plans have finally come full circle.