NORMAN — Oklahoma's ongoing woes at kicker can't be blamed on a lack of scholarships.
In quite the revelation, coach Bob Stoops disclosed Tuesday that the Sooners have four kickers on scholarship. And another has been promised a scholarship after the semester.
Making OU's struggles at the position all the more disconcerting.
"We have invested in kickers more so than anybody," Stoops said. "It's really frustrating with what our commitment has been, and then you look around the country and how many guys that aren't on scholarship do so well."
On top of place-kicker Jimmy Stevens and punter Tress Way, who both arrived in Norman on scholarship, Stoops said ex-walk-on kickers Patrick O'Hara and Bryce Easley have recently been given scholarships, too. Stoops also said he's promised a scholarship to freshman walk-on kicker Michael Hunnicutt after the semester.
Neither Easley nor Hunnicutt has kicked in a game yet, while Stevens and O'Hara have both struggled.
Especially in Saturday's 36-27 loss at Missouri.
On the opening kickoff, O'Hara, who just replaced Way on kickoffs the previous week, reached only the 14-yard line, despite having a stiff wind at his back. The poor kick set up Gahn McGaffie's 86-yard touchdown return.
Later, down 17-14 in the third quarter, the Sooners had a chance to tie the game. But with the wind, Stevens hooked a 30-yard attempt wide left. On Missouri's ensuing drive, Grant Ressel (3 for 3 on field goals) countered by nailing a 30-yarder against the wind to give the Tigers a six-point lead, a critical swing in the game's final outcome.
"It's frustrating," Stoops said. "I never find it attractive to sit here and get on young people. They're trying hard. They're working. They put in the time in practice and we'll keep working with them.
"But it has been frustrating."
The Sooners' struggles at kicker have been a problem since Garrett Hartley headed to the NFL after the 2007 season.
Last year, OU joined Akron, Indiana and Rutgers as the only four schools to miss 10 or more field-goal tries while also failing to connect on one from 50 yards out. And missed field goals played a decided factor in OU's losses to Texas and Nebraska.
What's more frustrating for the Sooners is the success other Big 12 schools have had with their kickers.
Oklahoma State's Dan Bailey might be the favorite to win the Lou Groza Award, given annually to the top kicker in college football.
Not only is Bailey 15 of 15 on field-goal attempts, he drilled a 40-yard game winner against Texas A&M, nailed a pair of 52-yarders at Louisiana-Lafayette and remains perfect in his career on extra points.
Missouri's Ressel, Baylor's Aaron Jones, Nebraska's Alex Henery and Texas' Justin Tucker, meanwhile, have been almost as prolific.
Stoops indicated this week that Stevens would continue to handle field goals. But mostly because OU's other kickers haven't shown in practice they can do any better.
"We'll see how practice goes the rest of the week," Stoops said. "It's not that easy when you're out at practice and you don't see consistency with some of the other guys. It's not that easy to change."
Even with five of the school's 85 allotted scholarships already tied up in the kicking game, Stoops admitted he'd still consider offering out another scholarship to a kicker in the upcoming recruiting class.
But, as Stoops pointed out, that begins to hurt the depth of other positions — if it hasn't already.
Five scholarship kickers "is a ton," Stoops said. "Obviously you only have 85, it limits you in other areas. So, there's no denying that. It's like a salary cap, you only get so many in every area."
As for the rest of the season, Stoops confessed he might be inclined to go for it on fourth down instead of trying any more field goals.
"I'm very aware of our consistency and inconsistency kicking the ball," Stoops said. "It's in my mind and definitely will be the rest of the year."