Stoops says Sooners can adjust after UTEP scare
NORMAN, Okla. (AP)
The fact No. 4 Oklahoma wasn't as impressive as expected in its season opener at Texas-El Paso doesn't greatly concern coach Bob Stoops, who said Monday there was nothing the Sooners did wrong that can't be corrected.
With the Sooners set to face Football Championship Series opponent Florida A&M on Saturday, the talk during Stoops' weekly news conference focused more on Oklahoma's 24-7 win over UTEP. The Sooners couldn't put away the pesky Miners until scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
UTEP returned a blocked punt for a first-quarter touchdown and trailed only 10-7 entering the fourth quarter after a series of Oklahoma errors. On offense, a chop-block penalty wiped out a long pass play, another pass play was nullified because the receiver was barely out of bounds and an offensive line with several new faces surrendered three sacks.
The Sooners' defense didn't surrender a point but struggled to stop UTEP running back Nathan Jeffery, who rushed for 177 yards. Jeffery reeled off a 71-yard third-quarter run from his own 3-yard line and only a touchdown-saving tackle by cornerback Aaron Colvin kept the Miners from taking the lead.
Stoops complained about the tendency of critics to ''judge the whole season on one game,'' pointing out the Sooners looked impressive in last season's opener (a 47-14 win over Tulsa) before finishing 10-3 and not winning the Big 12 Conference title. Oklahoma started in less-than-stellar fashion in 2004 (a 40-24 win over Bowling Green), 2006 (a 24-17 win over Alabama-Birmingham) and 2010 (a 31-24 win over Utah State) but went on to win Big 12 titles each of those years.
''My concern is that we get better, make improvement, learn from some of the things we weren't quite as efficient at,'' Stoops said. ''That's our job as coaches to point out and for the players to take notice of it, be aware of it and improve it . moving forward as we go. It's one game and we've got a long year in front of us. How you start doesn't always have anything to do with how you finish.''
While the Sooners averaged more than five yards per carry against UTEP, Stoops said that number could have been higher if not for busted assignments. Stoops said on two of the sacks, quarterback Landry Jones had time to throw the ball away.
''Everywhere it was just a little off,'' Jones said. ''When everyone is a little off, it looks pretty bad out there. We'll get better and move on down the road.
''I thought we actually practiced pretty decently. We were just not on the same page. One of those things.''
As with the offense, Stoops said the Sooners' defensive issues - including allowing Jeffery's long run - were the result of a handful of individual mistakes.
''A couple of issues were really pretty fundamental,'' he said. ''Early on, in a couple of occasions our defensive end was just too far up field and we have it all taken care of along the line and he bends it back and there's the crease. When you run up the field, the ball bends back and gets inside of you, so in some of those instances the defensive end needs to sit at home and play it.
''Then a time or two, we missed a tackle on the goal line for the big one. And that's a formation we haven't seen or worked. In the player's defense, that's something we'll do better as coaches to be in a better position.''
The Sooners, who used only two defensive tackles - Jamarkus McFarland and David King - for most of the game against UTEP likely will be in the same situation against Florida A&M.
Casey Walker, who missed the UTEP game while dealing with a personal issue, probably will be out against Florida A&M, too, Stoops said. Backup Torrea Peterson also will be out because of what Stoops said was an academic issue, while Stacy McGee remains suspended indefinitely for a violation of university rules. Walker and McGee were expected to start this season.
Besides King and McFarland, the only other defensive tackles who saw action against UTEP were Jordan Phillips and Marquis Anderson, who played late in the fourth quarter. Stoops said it's not unusual for the Sooners to rotate only four defensive tackles during a game.
Oklahoma also has learned that receiver Jalen Saunders, who transferred from Fresno State during the spring, will have to sit out this season, per NCAA rules. Saunders had appealed to the NCAA to waive its requirement that transfers sit out one season, but Stoops said the NCAA denied that appeal.
Oklahoma coaches had hopes Saunders, who had 50 catches for 1,065 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2011, would bolster a receiving corps left with little experience because of the suspensions of three players.
Stoops said tight end Geneo Grissom will return for the Florida A&M after being suspended for the UTEP game.