Sooner Fans Don't Need To Panic. . . Yet
EL PASO, Texas - Sure, it was the first game of the season that kicked off at 9:30 p.m. CST in the desert of El Paso, but Sooner fans everywhere have a lot of reasons to be concerned.
Oklahoma slogged its way through 60 minutes of seemingly uninspired football, but still managed to come away with a 24-7 win over a very game UTEP Miners team that had OU on the ropes for most of the night.
OU fans shouldn't hit the panic button just yet given OU's schedule the next couple of weeks, but having a hand close by wouldn't be frowned upon.
There was so much speculation coming into this season about how the Sooners would respond after a more than disappointing 2011 season. The Sooners came into last season ranked No. 1 in the country, lost at home to Texas Tech, suffered their first loss ever to Baylor, and were annihilated by in-state rival Oklahoma State, free-falling into the Insight Bowl to close the year.
The jury is still out, but after one game, it doesn't look like a lot has changed.
Sure, the defense did seem to be much improved, giving up 249 yards for the game and zero points. However, UTEP running back Nathan Jeffery ran wild, carrying 21 times for 177 yards. If cramps had not kept Jeffery on the sidelines for much of the fourth quarter, this game could have ended a lot differently.
The defense also kept UTEP quarterback Nick Lamaison from doing anything remotely close to fulfilling his desire to be the best quarterback on the field against the Sooners. Lamaison was a measly 6-for-23 for just 39 yards.
Offensively, OU was pretty miserable. The stats say OU had 428 yards, 230 through the air, 198 on the ground, and zero turnovers. However, 68 of the passing yards came on a first quarter touchdown pass from Jones to Kenny Stills, and 65 of the rushing yards came on a touchdown run by Damien Williams that gave OU a 24-7 lead, and put the game away for the Sooners.
No one on offense was immune from the struggles. Landry Jones was a bit out of sync with his brand new receiving corps, although he did have a good feel for connecting with Stills. Jones has said repeatedly he worked on his footwork and mobility in the offseason, and that was apparent throughout much of the game, mainly because the offensive line didn't do a very good job of giving him time to throw.
The offensive line also struggled to push the Miners off the line of scrimmage to establish running lanes against a defense that finished 104th in total defense a year ago.
And then there were the special teams.
UTEP jumped to a 7-0 lead by returning a blocked punt for a touchdown. OU punter Tress Way never had a chance because even though had an all-out rush on, the OU players on the line of scrimmage let every one of the Miners through, leaving the three back blockers to take on 10 Miners. Then, in the second quarter, kicker Michael Hunnicutt kicked a field goal so low, it didn't rise above the shoulders of the linemen in front of him. UTEP picked up the loose ball and returned it to midfield.
There were some positives for OU despite the poor performance. The Sooners defense buckled down after the opening drive and shut down the Miners offensively outside of several big Jeffery runs. Jones made good decisions passing, not throwing an interception for the first time since Nov. 5 of last year against Texas A&M. Williams, the junior college transfer, was a pleasant surprise, running for 103 yards on 10 carries, including the 65-yard touchdown run that iced the game.
Despite those positives, the overwhelming feeling for anyone related to the OU program Saturday night was concern. OU looked nothing like the No. 4 team in the country, and easily could have lost this game had the defense not buckled down or UTEP been able to keep its players on the field instead of rubbing mustard on them to relieve cramps on the sidelines.
Fans can say a win is a win, but this win raised all sorts of questions about the Sooners, and how this season is going to go. OU has time to get some things in order over the next few weeks. They face FCS opponent Florida A&M in Norman next Saturday, then have a bye week before Kansas State comes to town Sept. 22. Another bye week follows that before the Sooners hit the meat of their schedule, starting Oct. 6 in Lubbock against Texas Tech.
OU proved against UTEP they have fixed some of the problems that plagued the 2011 team, but also showed they're not all the way there yet. It may not be time to panic, but at this point, it's certainly a viable option.