Lessons not learned: Sooners' struggles at UTEP look familiar
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Monday, September 03, 2012
9/03/12 at 10:27 PM
Read more coverage
of OU’s win, including
breakdown, and Mike
Stoops’ reaction to the defense.
NORMAN - Oklahoma led Tulsa 3-0 at halftime of its 2002 season opener, then proceeded to win a Big 12 championship and Rose Bowl. The Sooners never really put away Bowling Green in their '04 opener, then rolled through the conference and played for a national title.
OU's '06 Big 12 champs began by struggling with UAB. The 2010 Big 12 and Fiesta Bowl winners opened with a seven-point victory over Utah State.
The Sooners who vow they will rally from Saturday night's lethargic win at UTEP have some history in their favor. And with 11 games coming over the next 13 weeks, time is also on their side.
Judging from their performance in the Sun Bowl, however, the Sooners are just as likely to repeat their underachieving 2011 season. They are making many of the same mistakes.
The Texas Tech, Baylor and Oklahoma State defenses were all there for the taking last year, and yet Oklahoma managed a total of 20 points in those three first halves.
Saturday night, the Sooners scored seven points before halftime against a UTEP defense that gave up 30 a game in 2011.
Was it the late kickoff? The less-than-capacity crowd? The lack of star power on the opposite sideline?
"We didn't come out flat. We came out with a lot of energy," quarterback Landry Jones countered. "We just didn't play very good."
They sure didn't, particularly in the first 30 minutes. For whatever reason, that is becoming both a terrible habit and a real burden on OU's defense.
The Sooner defense toughed it out Saturday night and left El Paso without surrendering a point. Good for Mike Stoops in his first game back as coordinator.
And yet bad for Stoops and the Sooners that Nathan Jeffery ripped off a 71-yard third-quarter run that threatened OU's 10-7 lead.
The Miners were pinned to their own 3-yard line. OU anticipated a run and replaced cornerback Demontre Hurst with linebacker Aaron Franklin.
And yet ...
"We missed a tackle on the goal line," coach Bob Stoops said.
Franklin missed Jeffery. Then strong safety Javon Harris missed Jeffery. If not for the downfield hustle of remaining corner Aaron Colvin, UTEP leads 14-10 and Oklahoma has given up the second-longest run in program history.
It was plenty long as it was. It also brought to mind the bombardment of big plays the Sooners surrendered in their three losses last year.
Something else that resembled 2011 - special teams woes. Last year's bogdowns included Fozzy Whittaker's 100-yard kickoff return in the Cotton Bowl, OU's 102nd-ranked punt-return defense and a third straight season without a Sooner punt or kickoff return for a touchdown.
Saturday, the Sooners had a punt and field goal blocked for the first time since '09.
Other moments recalled the lack of discipline that infiltrated last season. The fumbles by Trey Metoyer, Justin Brown and Dominique Whaley, for instance, as well as the Whaley/Adam Shead chop block that wiped out Kenny Stills' 38-yard catch to the UTEP 4 late in the first quarter.
These were execution bugs that at least one Sooner saw creep up during game week.
"It all started in practice," Jones said. "If you want to be great game players, if you want to be a great team, you've got to be great practice players."
That sounded a little like the Sooners' postgame after last year's Tech loss, a shoddy effort some Sooners sensed was coming because of shoddy practices.
OU never fully learned the lessons from that loss and, therefore, never really recovered.
It's on the Sooners to learn from their season-opening win, and avoid further comparisons to last year's team.
OU FOOTBALL: ISSUES IN OPENER
UP NEXT: 6 p.m. Saturday
Vs. Florida A&M
Radio: KMOD fm97.5, KTBZ am1430
Original Print Headline: Lessons not learned
Guerin Emig 918-581-8355
Oklahoma defensive end Chuka Ndulue tackles UTEP running back Nathan Jeffery during Saturday's game. MARK LAMBIE / Associated Press