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UTEP-Oklahoma Not About What We Saw [OPINION]

"They freaking scored?" Members of the Pride of Oklahoma Marching Band react after UTEP took a 7-0 lead on No. 4 Oklahoma as Nathan Jeffery returned a block punt for a touchdown. Photo by Duke Keith

Don’t try figuring out what you saw in the Sun Bowl Saturday night/Sunday morning. Attempting to parse the hard stats from the Oklahoma-UTEP game will only leave you terribly confused.

“The halftime score was what?”

“Nathan Jeffery ran for how many yards on OU?”

“UTEP blocked how many kicks?”

No, no, don’t give yourself the brain pain. To reckon the Sooners’ 24-7 win, you have to pay close attention to what you didn’t see.

That’s two things: the usual porous Miners’ defense, and the fourth-best team in the country.

UTEP defensive coordinator Andre Patterson’s defense stood toe-to-toe with one of the most prolific offenses in college football, led by a quarterback who will likely be in New York City this December as a Heisman Trophy finalist.

That’s provided the Sooners’ lackluster performance against the Miners was a one-off and doesn’t result in disappointment down the line.

The UTEP defense sacked Landry Jones three times and kept plenty of pressure on the senior signal caller throughout the game.

That’s right, the words “UTEP defense”, “sack” and “pressure” have just appeared together in the same sentence for the first time…ever? Sacks have only been kept as a statistic since 1980. The Miners were 1-11 in 1980.

Saturday, they were tied with Oklahoma into the third quarter and trailed just 10-7 going into the fourth. Patterson’s Miners controlled the line of scrimmage into that final quarter, matching the all-America candidates on the Sooners’ D, led by the returning Mike Stoops, who rejoins head coach and brother Bob as defensive coordinator.

Offensively, the school that produced Adrian Peterson, Billy Sims and Joe Washington had to wait until the Miners were gassed before breaking a big play on the ground.

Take away Damien Williams 65-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter and Patterson’s defense allowed the Sooners only 140 yards rushing.

By then, though, one of the easy-to-see stats loomed large yet again for UTEP — Time of Possession. Close to even between the two teams for much of the night, the Sooners held the ball for 9:16 of the fourth quarter, the deadly no-huddle attack finally yielding results by scoring two of OU’s three touchdowns in the final frame.

As it was much of last year, UTEP’s defense was just on the field too long.

The Miners passing offense — head coach Mike Price’s calling card — stunk the place up. Credit Stoops’ defense, here, because it was the one that pitched a complete game shutout.

But what in the name of Drew Bledsoe is 6-for-23 and 39 yards? That was quarterback Nick Lamaison’s stats line. Of the incompletions, some were missed, some were dropped and some were Soonered.

That said, what Jeffery did against Oklahoma may beg some hard questions in Norman. It also serves notice that the four-season trend of the Miners being able to run the football should continue, even in the absence of running game coordinator Bob Connelly, who left to join Todd Graham at Arizona State.

Behind a healthy, hungry offensive line, now coached by former UTEP all-American tight end Brian Natkin, the talented sophomore torched the Sooners for 177 yards on 21 carries, including a huge 71-yard gain in the third quarter.

But that promising drive ground to a halt the rest of the way, capped off by perhaps the worst aspect of the Miners’ efforts — field-goal kicking.

Steven Valadez missed from 41 yards out on that particular drive. But Valadez was only brought in when Dakota Warren missed twice in the first half from 45 yards and 31 yards, respectively.

Still, UTEP’s special teams was a wash because of a pair of blocks in the first half.

Richard Spencer blocked a punt straight into the waiting hands of Jeffery, who returned it 24 yards for the first score of the game in the first quarter. Then Horace Miller both blocked and recovered Mike Hunnicutt’s field goal attempt in the second quarter.

All told, it was a good — if not surprising — effort for Price and the Miners, and it certainly raises national eyebrows because of who it came against.

If this is who Oklahoma is this season, it won’t be long until that No. 4 ranking evaporates into another disappointment in Norman.

But history has been much kinder to Oklahoma than it has been to UTEP. It will take many more gritty efforts for the Miners to break through and win, especially in the crucible of their first month.

A defense and a running game certainly helps, though. That’s plain to see.

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