Sloppy Sooners pull away from UTEP late
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Sunday, September 02, 2012
9/02/12 at 1:22 PM
EL PASO, Texas – Saturday was supposed to be the night Oklahoma shrugged off the injuries and suspensions, finally played a football game and solved the mystery of just how good it could be.
After the Sooners' 24-7 victory, the question was more: Just how overrated is the nation's No. 4-ranked team?
OU came into the Sun Bowl a 30-point favorite, but jogged into the locker room tied 7-7. UTEP took a 7-0 lead after OU didn't bother to block a punt rush six minutes into the game, allowing the Miners to stuff Tress Way's effort and run it back 24 yards for a 7-0 lead.
The Sooners came back to tie the score after Landry Jones bought time and found Kenny Stills behind the defense for a 68-yard bomb with 5:05 left in the quarter. It was the type of play that should have jolted OU into immediate control of the game.
It did nothing of the sort. Only in the third quarter did the Sooners take their first lead. They accepted the opening kickoff of the half, quickened their pace and drove 54 yards to Michael Hunnicutt's 38-yard field goal.
Then they spent about 45 minutes watching UTEP's special teams implode worse than their own. The Miners missed their third field goal attempt of the game midway through the third quarter, then ran an ill-advised fake punt on their own half of the field.
Joe Ibiloye and Jaydan Bird stuffed it to give the Sooners possession on the UTEP 41. A couple of third-down conversions by Blake Bell later, Jones hit tight end Brannon Green for an 18-yard touchdown, and OU led 17-7 with 10:38 remaining.
The Sooners controlled the rest of the game, got a 65-yard touchdown clincher from Damien Williams and avoided an embarrassing upset. They'll host Florida A&M next Saturday with a 1-0 record.
Just don't expect them to move up in the polls. Don't expect any of the questions heading into the opener to end.
Not after the performance before 40,137 in the Sun Bowl.
"It's pretty obvious we weren't as in sync as you need to be," coach Bob Stoops said. "We'll work hard on it. I thought we would have executed smoother than we did. Not that I didn't think we'd have some miscues. But just overall, we've got to be much cleaner. We've got to do a lot of work to get that done."
The Sooners were affected by season-ending injuries in their offensive line. How else to explain OU's lack of a consistent rushing attack Saturday night against a defense that ranked 95th nationally against the run?
Williams closed fast in his OU debut, with 104 yards on nine carries. But the Sooners managed just 38 rushing yards in their dismal first half.
Meanwhile, Jones found himself under duress. He went 21-of-36 for 222 yards while being sacked three times. Not bad, but not what you would expect against a UTEP defense that ranked 92nd against the pass a year ago.
"One play I'd be great, one play I'd suck," Jones said. "It was just one of those games."
The Sooners were affected by mass turnover in the receiving game. Stills caught six balls for 121 yards. Penn State transfer Justin Brown had a productive second half. But the rest of OU's wideouts and tight ends were generally average, save for Green's touchdown on his first career catch.
On defense, the Sooners kept the Miners out of the end zone and limited Nick Lamaison to 6-of-23 passing for 39 yards. The problem was Nathan Jeffery, the halfback who threatened to become the first 200-yard rusher against OU since Missouri quarterback Brad Smith in 2002 (he finished with 177).
"Giving up those big plays on the zone read was basic," Sooners middle linebacker Tom Wort said. "We knew what was coming. That was a little disappointing to not execute."
It was the general theme leaving El Paso. Florida A&M will come to Norman an overwhelming underdog. Just don't expect a restful week for the Sooners in preparation.
Not after Saturday night.
Oklahoma's Javon Harris sends UTEP kick returner DeShawn Grayson airborne on the opening kickoff during their game Saturday in El Paso, Texas. MARK LAMBIE/The Associated Press