Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

September 2, 2012

No. 4 Sooners survive for 24-7 win over UTEP

EL PASO, Texas — Landry Jones faced pressure on nearly every snap, had trouble finding his receivers.

The running game bogged down most of the night. The specials teams allowed two blocked kicks, one that led to a touchdown.

It wasn't pretty, nearly a disaster actually, but the Sooners found a win to grind out a win.

Riding its defense all night and scoring a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter, No. 4 Oklahoma survived a scare by slogging out a 24-7 win over Texas-El Paso on Saturday night.

"We just weren't in synch," Sooners quarterback Landry Jones said. "It was one of those things where we would have flashes of greatness, but it wouldn't be all as a team. But we came out with a W and that's what we're shooting for."

Oklahoma labored from the start of its opener, unable to generate much of a running game or get anything going downfield.

Tied at halftime and up just 10-7 after three quarters, the Sooners finally created a gap from the gritty Miners by stuffing UTEP on a fake punt to set up an 18-yard touchdown pass to Brannon Green midway through the fourth quarter.

They finally sealed it in the closing minutes, when Damien Williams burst through the right side and ran to the left pylon for a 65-yard touchdown run.

Jones threw for 222 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 21 of 36 passing, his timing with a new set of receivers not quite there yet.

Williams had 104 yards on nine carries, giving the Sooners a respectable 205 yards on the ground with his big run late.

The defense was good most of the night, though did give up a few big runs.

The Sooners managed to get past all the mistakes, though, and move on with a win.

"Obviously, we had some inconsistencies, but still I feel positive with my team when we get a win, any time," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.

The 30-point underdog Miners weren't intimidated by the mighty Sooners, the highest-ranked team they had faced at home.

Nathan Jeffrey ran for 177 yards and returned a blocked punt 24 yards for a touchdown for UTEP, which also blocked a field goal to remain tied with Oklahoma at the half.

The Miners just couldn't finish off what would have been the biggest upset in school history.

Two kickers missed three field goals that would have given UTEP the lead and a fake punt that failed in their own end gave Oklahoma a short field to set up the Jones-to-Green TD that made it 17-7.

Close, but just short.

"We had a great opportunity and we played our hearts out," UTEP coach Mike Price said.

The Sooners open this season, as they always seem to, with big expectations.

Last season, Oklahoma opened as the preseason No. 1, but never lived up to the billing, run over by Baylor, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State to see its national championship hopes end.

A big problem for the Sooners was their defense, which allowed Baylor's Robert Griffin III to throw for 479 yards and Texas Tech's Seth Doege to go for 441.

Hoping to shore up what had once been a strength at OU, Stoops brought back his little brother, Mike, to run the defense again. He helped lead the Sooners to the 2000 national title and, despite overseeing a defense that lost four players to the NFL, has helped created a buzz that the Sooners would be strong on both sides of the ball this year.

Jones added to Oklahoma's preseason hype after spurning the NFL for a shot at a national title. The most prolific passer in school history, he's a steady hand and a Heisman Trophy hopeful again expected to put up big numbers.

No one looked particularly good on either side of the ball against UTEP.

Unimpressed by the Sooners, the Miners broke off some good-sized plays on their first drive, prompting Mike Stoops to charge onto the field to scream at his players during a timeout.

Dakota Warren missed a 45-yard field goal at the end of that drive, but Oklahoma's first offensive possession resulted in a touchdown for the Miners when Richard Spencer blocked Tress Way's punt and Jeffrey ran it in 24 yards to give UTEP a surprising 7-0 lead after Oklahoma had scored 89 straight points in the series.

Oklahoma gathered itself briefly late in the first quarter, when Jones rolled left and threw to the right sideline, where Kenny Stills streaked in for a 68-yard touchdown.

"I just saw Kenny running down the sideline over and kind of just put it out there and let his speed go get the ball," Jones said.

That was it for Oklahoma in the first half.

UTEP continued to harass the Sooners, holding them to seven first downs and 75 yards outside of the big play to Stills. The Miners also blocked a 44-yard field goal attempt by Michael Hunnicutt — it may have hit a Sooners lineman in the backside — and would have had the halftime lead had Warren not pushed a 31-yard field goal wide right.

Still, 7-7 at halftime against the fourth-ranked team in the country? The Miners would take that any day.

Jeffrey kept them in it in the third quarter by bursting through some big holes, including a 71-yard yard run that put the Miners in scoring position. That chance came up empty when Steven Valadez, kicking in place of Warren, hooked a 37-yard field goal to the right in the third quarter.

"The missed field goals were tough for the momentum and hard for the adversity," Price said. "You go all the way down there and stumble, then come back without anything."

UTEP continued to stymie Oklahoma's offense, but came up short on a fake punt in the fourth quarter and the Sooners took advantage with Jones hitting Green on an 18-yard touchdown pass that gave Oklahoma a 17-7 lead and, finally, a little breathing room.

Williams gave the Sooners a sigh of relief with his run, OU's longest in three years, to finish off the difficult win.

"I'm not disappointed, I'm just not satisfied that we didn't play the way we're capable of," Stoops said.

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