- Brandon Chatmon, College Football
It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win.
Oklahoma began its 2012 season with a 24-7 victory over UTEP at Sun Bowl Stadium on Saturday night. Some questions were answered and some questions arose while everyone agrees the Sooners have work to do if they plan to compete for a national championship this fall.
Here’s a closer look at five key plays from Saturday’s season-opening win:
Nathan Jeffery’s 24-yard blocked punt return
Where do we begin? First off, the Miners had 10 defenders at the line of scrimmage; they didn’t try to mask the punt block call at all.
Without knowing particular blocking assignments, it’s hard to blame the Sooners three up-backs as David King, Trey Millard and Chuka Ndulue all blocked inside-out -- i.e. blocking the defender closest to the center of the formation -- which is generally what you want. If anything, those guys get a share of the blame for not recognizing the punt block call pre-snap and making sure all 11 guys were aware of the need to secure the overall protection.
Along the line of scrimmage, each Sooner blocked a UTEP player one-on-one, except Javon Harris and Joseph Ibiloye, who ended up doubling one Miner player with Ibiloye blocking outside-in while Richard Spencer slid inside of him and eventually blocked the punt.
While several Miners came free at some point, Spencer was the lone player in position to block the punt and he did. Jeffery picked it up and ran untouched for the first touchdown of the game.
On the Sooners' next punt, every Sooner along the line of scrimmage blocked inside-out and Gabe Ikard replaced Ndulue as an up-back. Who knows who made the mistake on OU’s first punt, but take that description for what it’s worth.
Kenny Stills’ 68-yard touchdown reception
On third-and-11, the Sooners had a four-wide set, trips right, with Brennan Clay in the backfield. Quarterback Landry Jones struggled to find anyone open early in the play, but 4.8 seconds after he received the snap, he fired from the left hashmark across the field to the right sideline where a wide-open Stills waited. While the Sooners offensive line was a major concern to OU fans after the game, Jones had nearly five full seconds to find a receiver on this play.
Regardless of how long he had to throw, very few quarterbacks can make the throw Jones made on the touchdown. The senior was at OU’s 26-yard line, past the left hashmark, when he released the ball, and Stills caught it at the UTEP 36-yard line, within five yards of the right sideline, in stride.
NFL scouts swoon.
UTEP defensive back Wesley Miller undoubtedly felt like he was in good position on the play as Jones moved to his left -- he probably doesn’t see throws like that in Conference USA. As the Miners safety Derrick Morgan went deep with Justin Brown, Stills recognized he would be all alone if he went deep and knew Jones had the arm strength and accuracy to make the throw. Stills’ acceleration and speed made it a long touchdown instead of just a long gain as he outraced Morgan to the endzone.
Gastelum stuffs UTEP fake punt attempt early in the fourth quarter
Mike Price wanted his Miners to be aggressive but ... come on, Mike. There was no reason to think their fake punt with 13:36 left in the game was going to be successful before the snap. The Sooners defensive alignment would make you think they were standing in UTEP’s huddle when the call was made.
Worse yet, they didn’t even execute it.
Sooners linebacker Caleb Gastelum shed a blocker and stuffed UTEP’s Josh Bell. IT’s not a huge surprise to see the sophomore walk-on, who was a mainstay on several special teams units in 2011, make a key play on Saturday. And if Gastelum didn’t get him, Jaydan Bird, Daniel Franklin or Jesse Paulsen would have.
Nice thought, in theory, but bad decision with your team down three points to the nation’s No. 4 squad at home. OU scored on the ensuing drive to take a 17-7 lead. Shortly thereafter, the moral victory talk began to emerge from the mouths of the TV announcers.
Brannon Green's 18-yard touchdown reception
OU was in a four-wide formation with Green in the slot on the left side. The Sooners isolated Green on UTEP linebacker Josh Fely and his corner route combined with a terrific throw from Jones to give OU a 17-7 lead.
An excellent blitz pickup by Brennan Clay insured Jones enough time to make the throw to Green at the goal line. A combination of anticipation and accuracy by Jones made that play unstoppable.
It should be noted that Tyrus Thompson replaced Lane Johnson at left tackle on the 7-play, 41-yard drive, although it was not his first series of the night. Nonetheless, he brought a nasty attitude with him, finishing plays with a physical tone and winning his one-on-one battle with Horace Miller on Green’s touchdown reception. If Thompson continues to play like that, it will be tough to keep him off the field.
Damien Williams’ 65-yard touchdown gallop
The Sooners were in the Diamond formation with Trey Millard and Jaydan Bird serving as fullbacks. After Millard went in motion, right tackle Daryl Williams and Bird sealed the right corner with quality blocks, Millard planted the safety on his face and Williams zipped through the opening. The junior college transfer then turned on the speed to outrace UTEP defenders to the endzone.
The blocking on the play was superb. In addition to Williams, Millard and Bird, center Gabe Ikard, guard Bronson Irwin and receiver Justin Brown made blocks which were part of the reason Williams was untouched during the long run.
And, in one play, Williams served notice that he plans to be a impact newcomer in OU’s offense. His vision, speed and acceleration were all on display.
Bonus section: Pass protection
While it might have seemed like Jones was under pressure throughout the night, the Sooners offensive line was solid. Jones often had at least 2.5 seconds to throw the ball but was hesitant to pull the trigger. For context, the NFL’s Green Bay Packers use a 2.5 second passing clock in practice, particularly in 7-on-7 scenarios.
Without question, there were times when mental busts or poor blocking forced Jones to scramble. And yet those occasions were the aberration, not the norm. Jones had at least 2.5 seconds to throw on two of the three sacks allowed against the Miners.
Expect OU’s passing game to improve as Jones gets comfortable with his new targets and rediscovers the rhythm required to run the offensive system efficiently.
It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win.Oklahoma began its 2012 season with a 24-7 victory over UTEP at Sun Bowl Stadium on Saturday night. Some questions were answered and some questions arose while everyone agrees the Sooners have work to do if they plan to compete for a national championship this fall.