Sooners evade upset, but much work to do

September, 2, 2012
9/02/12
2:05
AM ET
Oklahoma has made a living in the Big 12 of late on the back of its offense. The Sooners have the raw talent on this year's team, but the pieces have a lot of gelling to do in the weeks to come, or Oklahoma may be depending on its defense a whole lot in 2012.

The Sooners scored just 10 points in the first three quarters of their 24-7 victory over UTEP that had everybody in the crimson and cream justifiably sweating.

The 10:30 p.m. ET road kickoff was a weird one, and the Sooners looked out of sorts from the start. The biggest problem? The offensive line. The unit lost starting center Ben Habern to retirement because of nagging injuries and starting guard Tyler Evans for the season after a knee injury. That left them looking to replace 59 starts on the line, and Saturday night, it showed.

Landry Jones looked good moving, but you can't count on a quarterback to put up good numbers if he's rarely given a chance to set his feet and throw. That was Jones' night.

His numbers dipped late last season after Ryan Broyles' injury, and coach Bob Stoops spent the offseason defending his quarterback, reminding all who asked that a quarterback needs support for success.

Jones, yet again, didn't get it. His receivers and backs dropped passes, and his offensive line often looked helpless against a defense that ranked 104th nationally in 2011.

He finished with just 230 yards on 22-of-37 passing with two scores and no turnovers.

For now, Oklahoma can chalk it up to a young line and young receivers still getting used to their first real action. It's still plenty of reason to be concerned. Can it change by Big 12 play? Certainly. Oklahoma won't be tested until Sept. 22. The Sooners face FCS opponent Florida A&M next week, then have a bye before their Big 12 showdown with Kansas State.

The offense will have to be straightened out by then, not to mention a special-teams unit plagued by mistakes including a missed field goal and a blocked punt that gave UTEP its only points of the night.

The brightest spot was the defense that pitched a shutout, even though it got help in the form of three missed field goals from the Miners. Nathan Jeffery's 177 rushing yards are a red flag for sure, but the Sooners defensive backs were solid from start to finish, and UTEP quarterbacks combined to complete just 7-of-26 passes for 48 yards. That's got to make Mike Stoops, the man in charge of revitalizing Oklahoma's secondary, smile. Not many big busts in the secondary that became a hallmark of the Sooners' 2011 failures.

At least he'll get back some major pieces on his defensive line back soon. Defensive tackles Casey Walker (illness) and Stacy McGee (suspension) were missing, and we'll see how OU defends the run next week and in three weeks against Kansas State, one of the league's best running games.

Oklahoma's naturally going to be disappointed with its debut. It should be. The Sooners would have lost to every Big 12 team except Kansas playing like they did tonight, and the Jayhawks might have come close.

There's lots of work to do, but as always at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops, there's lots to work with.

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