John Klein: Close opener concerning for OU
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Monday, September 03, 2012
9/03/12 at 4:47 AM
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of OU’s win.
Original Print Headline: Close opener concerning for OU
IT WAS NOT, by any stretch of the imagination, the kind of start Oklahoma had hoped for or envisioned.
Instead, the fourth-ranked Sooners had to fight to the finish of a 24-7 victory at UTEP on Saturday night.
"We had a great opportunity and we played our hearts out," said UTEP coach Mike Price.
It may be hard to believe, but OU had to score twice in the fourth quarter, including a meaningless long TD run in the final minute, to finally put away the Miners.
If you weren't concerned before Saturday night, you probably are now.
This is pretty much the same UTEP that got blown away by Tulsa and most of Conference USA last year.
OU coach Bob Stoops said the game was "a little bit rough." Yes, that would be one way to describe it.
"I thought we had some inconsistencies," Stoops said. "Our defense did well to shut down the run late in the game."
There was no debate about how long Landry Jones should play. He had to play to the finish. Oklahoma needed him all the way to the end to put away UTEP, a team many expect to finish near the bottom of Conference USA.
The game was tied 7-7 at halftime. OU led 10-7 with about 10 minutes to go in the game.
Nope, this was nothing like anyone expected.
"We were off a little bit," Stoops said. "But, we need to be more consistent in some areas."
UTEP was not lucky to be in the game. The Miners deserved to be in this game because they were able to run effectively against the middle of OU's defense and the Sooners were sloppy on offense.
In other words, this was no fluke. UTEP's Nathan Jeffery ran for 177 yards on 21 carries. That's more rushing yards than he had all of last season.
"He had a great night," Price said. "He ran awesome and we were able to run the ball effectively."
Oklahoma needed a defensive stop on a fake punt in the fourth quarter to finally get some breathing room.
"UTEP played well," said Stoops. "They played well in a lot of areas."
Luckily, the Miners were a disaster in the passing game. UTEP quarterback Nick Lamaison threw for just 39 yards (6-of-23), but that may be equally attributed to OU's defense and UTEP's inept passing game.
Still, UTEP consistently moved the ball against OU on the ground. It was so bad at one point that OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops charged out onto the field to yell at his players. That was something that probably happened in the homes of some OU fans, as well.
Yet, the offense was in for some of the concern, too.
In the first half, the only highlight was a long TD pass to Kenny Stills. Other than that pass to Stills, Oklahoma gained just 75 yards.
Also, remember the final offensive stats are somewhat inflated by a 65-yard run with 2:55 left in the game by Damien Williams.
There is plenty of work to be done.
"Some of the things I think was just our execution," said Bob Stoops. "We dropped some balls. We need to do a better job and we have to work on that."
Jones was 21-of-26 for 222 yards. Decent numbers but not near what most figured he would have against a defense that struggled to stop C-USA teams last season.
"Landry had some guys open but he was pressured and wasn't able to step in there," Bob Stoops said. "He had one foot in there and one foot out.
"He has to stay in there and let it go."
Yes, it was a victory. And, in the end, winning is all that matters. But certainly, the way Oklahoma won leaves a lot of doubt about exactly what kind of team the Sooners have this season.
"We just weren't in sync," said Jones.
Nope, and somewhere down the line that has to be considerably better. One would expect it will be fixed.
There were problems on both sides of the ball and some kicking game mistakes.
If UTEP wasn't a complete disaster in the kicking game, the Miners would have led in the fourth quarter of this game. UTEP missed three field goals, and the fake punt that was stuffed by OU was the turning point in the fourth quarter.
"The missed field goals were tough for the momentum and hard for the adversity," Price said.
In the end, it was a victory. Regardless of the red flags raised by this game, OU won, and winning is still the bottom line in football.
Oklahoma defensive end David King, bottom, sacks UTEP quarteraback Nick Lamaison during an NCAA college football game at the Sun Bowl, Saturday in El Paso, Texas. MARK LAMBIE / AP Photo