Oklahoma Football: What We Learned from the Week 1 Game vs. UTEP
Well, that was unexpected. After getting off to an incredibly slow start, the Oklahoma Sooners finished off the UTEP Miners in the fourth quarter, scoring 14 of their 24 points.
It's not every day you'll find a team being scrutinized for a 24-7 victory, but if you watched any of Saturday night's game, you know exactly what I'm talking about. For the most part, the Sooners looked just like the team that finished last season with an Insight Bowl appearance.
Coming out flat was a big issue for the Sooners last season, and that happened once again. While I can't imagine it being easy to get fired up about playing on the road against a team like UTEP in front of a non-sold out crowd, this was the first game of the season!
While the negatives surely outweighed the positives, there were a few things that the Sooners (and their fans) can be grateful for—no serious injuries is always a positive, right?
One thing is certain, though: The Sooners have a long way to go.
Landry Jones Is Mobile, but Still Landry Jones
Much was to be expected from the senior quarterback after spending the entire offseason working on improving the facets of his game that have plagued his past. Alas, his 2012 debut gave me a lot of mixed feelings about his "change."
First things first, Jones spent a lot of time working on his footwork, and that much was shown during the game. Jones was under duress more times than likely expected, but he proved that he was able to get out of the pocket and avoid the sack. In fact, his 68-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills in the first quarter came after avoiding pressure.
That was great to see. It was a big improvement over last season when he would constantly get flustered and either take a sack or throw the ball hopelessly into coverage. The fact that Jones came away with no interceptions tonight is another positive that should be mentioned.
Unfortunately, Jones still has some kinks that need to be worked out, namely his accuracy. I'm not going to blame everything on him, because there were a fair amount of dropped passes that should have resulted in positive yards. However, Jones missed the target more times than he (or the rest of us) would have liked. He is still throwing too high a lot of the time, which is a problem that carried over from the end of last season.
Jones finished the game 22-of-37 for 230 yards and two touchdowns. While these aren't terrible stats, they certainly aren't as good as they could (and should) have been.
Timing Needs to Be Improved Offensively
Like I was saying on the previous slide, Landry Jones can't be blamed for everything that took place Saturday night. The entire passing game looked off, and that falls on the receivers, as well.
Junior Kenny Stills finished with seven receptions for 130 yards and one touchdown, and his performance was about the only thing worth noting. Stills looked comfortable playing in the slot and filling in where Ryan Broyles left off. This was really, really great to see, as his play down the stretch of last season definitely alluded to him not being ready to take over.
Freshman Trey Metoyer finished with just four catches for 20 yards. He was never able to get a good rhythm with Jones, as the two failed to connect on several passes. Being that it was his first collegiate game, not much should be read into this. However, if the problem consists, this could be an issue for the Sooners down the road.
For only being on campus for less than a month, Penn State transfer Justin Brown proved to be a welcomed commodity.
Brown finished with four catches for 32 yards, but he, much like Metoyer, had a tough time getting in good rhythm with Jones. There was one play in particular where Brown broke free down the middle of the field, and had Jones' throw been on the mark, it would have been an easy six points.
Alas, Jones threw well-behind him, then continued to throw his hands up in confusion as to why Brown was running the route that he did. These are just little issues that need to be fixed through practice. Aside from Stills, these wide receivers haven't spent too much time in this offense.
Things will get better—it's going to be hard to get any worse.
Defensive Line Needs to Be Better
Senior defensive tackles Casey Walker and Stacy McGee were definitely missed, but the impact that Frank Alexander and Ronnell Lewis left behind may be more to worry about.
Getting pressure from the defensive line was a must for the Sooners this season. While they did get to the quarterback Saturday night, it wasn't as prevalent as it should have been.
One thing that can be taken away as a positive was the play of senior David King. King, who was projected as the starting defensive end opposite of R.J. Washington, had to slide over to defensive tackle upon McGee's indefinite suspension. King got in the backfield often and showed signs of mobility that were much needed.
Why were they "much needed," you ask? If you weren't aware, UTEP running back Nathan Jeffery ran the ball 21 times for 177 yards—Jeffery ran for 166 yards all of last season. He constantly got past the defensive line and made into into the second and third levels of the Sooners defense.
Jeffery is a good back, there's no doubt. However, the Sooners are going to have to be a lot better if they plan on stopping the rushing attacks of some of the schools they are going to face, such as Kansas State coming up in just a couple of weeks.
Even though the Sooners gave up a bevy of yards on the ground, they technically didn't give up any points, as the only UTEP score came off of a returned punt-block. The fact that UTEP quarterback only completed six of his 23 pass attempts for 39 yards is another big win for the defense.
The secondary looked improved, but the defensive line still has a ways to go.
Running Game a Work in Progress
Going into this season, I really thought the Sooners were going to have to run the ball a lot more than they had in the past. They have too many guys capable of breaking big runs in the backfield not to get them the ball more.
The final count for Saturday's game was 37 passes thrown and 36 rushing attempts. The Sooners are going to have a fantastic balanced attack once they get everything figured out. For now, both the passing and running games are a work in progress.
Everybody had to be excited to see senior Dominique Whaley back on the field after missing half of last season due to an ankle injury, but he certainly didn't look like the same back that made demolishing opposing defenses a habit.
Whaley finished the game with 11 carries on 55 yards, but aside from one 18-yard burst, he didn't show the same explosion and quickness from his pre-injury performances.
To be fair, this was his first time back in quite awhile, and I expected him to be rusty. What will really be interesting is to see how he performs against Florida A&M later this week.
The only other running back worth noting from this game was junior college transfer Damien Williams. Williams ran the ball 10 times for 103 yards, including a 65-yard scamper for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
Williams was junior college All-American last season, and he could very well prove to be the go-to back if Whaley isn't 100 percent.
Lastly, WHERE WAS ROY FINCH? While I have no problem commending Williams and Whaley for their efforts, why is Finch not getting any touches? Did he even touch the field? I didn't even ever see him line up in the slot, which is where he's been taking a lot of reps.
Finch was being used in the slot solely to get him on the field more. He is the most dynamic playmaker with the ball in his hands on the entire roster. The fact that he didn't get any playing time is an injustice. This was the most confusing thing about this entire game.
If this continues to happen, I'm starting a Free Roy Finch movement.
Sooners Can't Overlook Anybody
I sent out a few sarcastic tweets during this game about how I'd be much more upset with the Sooners' performance if it were against any other team, but because UTEP is the best team in college football, I was okay with it. While I was likely the only person laughing at my attempts at comedy, the tweet at least held some merit.
Okay, in no way is UTEP the best team (or in the top 50) in college football, but the Miners held their own and proved to be a decent team—better than what the Sooners could have imagined; certainly better than what I could have imagined.
UTEP ranked No. 104 in total defense last season, but they were able to hold a high-octane Sooners offense to 428 yards, well below their season average of 512 yards per game last season. Had the Miners not missed three field goals, they would have held a lead going into the fourth quarter.
Alas, the Sooners finally put together a few solid drives in the final 12 minutes, solidifying the victory against a UTEP team that was physically gassed. Their defense had played so well for the first three quarters—the Sooners merely out-conditioned them.
The Sooners came out flat against the Miners. Their body language looked like they weren't even excited to be on the field at times. This was supposed to be a blowout, but the Miners were ready. They were the more prepared team, and that falls on the coaches' shoulders.
Coming out flat has been a problem for awhile now. Is it the players? Are Bob and Mike Stoops not doing the right things to get their troops motivated? Whatever it is, it needs to be fixed.
The Sooners can't continue to overlook opponents. I have to figure that this will be talked about and fixed before next weekend's game, but I'm nervous not much will change. It is the first home game of the season, though, so it's going to be an entirely different atmosphere.
Still, getting excited to play a Florida A&M team that just lost to Tennessee State can't be an easy task. The Rattlers will be overmatched in every sense of the term, but UTEP was, too.
Should Sooner fans prepare themselves for another potential scare? I don't think so. However, the Sooners have to treat this like a big-time game, and that goes for every game from here on out.