EL PASO (AP) – While the rest of the Big 12’s title contenders rolled to impressive victories, No. 4 Oklahoma clearly has a few things to tighten up after scraping past a supposedly overmatched opponent.
The offensive line still needs some work after all that shuffling before the season. Quarterback Landry Jones hasn’t quite meshed with his new receivers. The defense could be better against the run and the special teams might want to work on blocking a little better.
The Sooners managed to pull out a 24-7 win over scrappy Texas-El Paso at the Sun Bowl Saturday night, but needed a strong effort from their defense and a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns to do it.
It wasn’t exactly what they had in mind, particularly after Oklahoma State scored 84 points, West Virginia dropped 69 and Kansas State had 51 in their easily-won openers.
“It wasn’t pretty, we know that, but it’s a ‘W,'” Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “A lot of things we can go back and work on. It’s not big-picture things. There are a lot of fine detail things we have to continue to iron out.”
Oklahoma entered the season with big expectations and Saturday’s game as a 30-point favorite.
The Sooners didn’t seem to be a fit for either against the Miners.
Jones, considered a top candidate for the Heisman Trophy, didn’t seem to be in synch for good chunks of the night, misfiring or miscommunicating with receivers several times or not seeing them at all. He did hit Kenny Stills — OU’s best receiver with All-American Ryan Broyles gone — for a 68-yard touchdown in the first quarter and found backup tight end Brannon Green for an 18-yard pass for the go-ahead score in the fourth.
Jones finished 21 of 36 for 247 yards, but it wasn’t exactly the kind of performance the most prolific passer in Oklahoma history had in mind for the opener of his final season.
“We were just inconsistent across the board,” Jones said.
It didn’t help that Oklahoma’s offensive line seems to still be sorting itself out.
The line was expected to be one of the team’s strengths this season, but a series of injuries led to a bit of shuffling.
The big fellas had a hard time keeping the feisty Miners away from Jones, who was sacked three times and hurried numerous other occasions. Oklahoma’s O-line had some decent moments — the hole for Damien Williams’ 65-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter being a big bright spot — but it wasn’t what any Sooners would have liked.
“Up through the middle of the third quarter, I’m not sure if we had a third-and-short; I think they were all third-and-longs,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “We didn’t execute very well. I thought we missed some protections.”
The special teams were a wreck in the first half.
After stalling on their opening drive, the Sooners let seemingly half of UTEP’s team in on a punt that was blocked and returned for a 24-yard touchdown and the game’s first score. Oklahoma also had a 44-yard field goal attempt blocked after first-year holder Tress Way dropped the snap and kicker Mike Hunnicutt sent the ball so low it probably would have hit one of his linemen in the backside.
“Tress just said he lost the ball and he hadn’t done that all spring and summer,” Stoops said. “It’s just one of those things, but the punt block we have to execute better.”
The Sooners can thank their defense for keeping it close.
Oklahoma’s D shut down UTEP’s passing game, leaving no room to throw inside or out, short or long. Nick Lamaison, Conference USA’s preseason first-team quarterback, had nowhere to go against the Sooners, throwing for 39 yards on 6-of-23 passing while being sacked twice.
Oklahoma wasn’t great against the run, allowing Nathan Jeffrey rush for 177 yards on 21 carries, but held when it counted most, keeping UTEP’s offense out of the end zone and holding the Miners to 3 of 16 on third-down conversions.
“I’m disappointed we didn’t play the run game better,” said Mike Stoops, who returned to serve as defensive coordinator under his big brother this season. “We bent a little, but we didn’t give up any points. It’s good to be tested. We don’t have to hear everybody telling us how good we are.”
The Sooners won, but know they need to get better, starting with Saturday’s home opener against Florida A&M.
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