• Landry Jones mobility: A. The OU quarterback was sacked thrice, but it could have been more. UTEP unleashed a solid pass rush, but Jones showed that talk of his quicker feet was legit. He routinely scrambled out of pressure, not always to a completed pass but at least to a non-sack.
• Big-play prevention: B. Big pass plays sank the Sooners a year ago. There was none of that Saturday night – UTEP completed only sevenpasses, none for longer than 13 yards – but tailback Nathan Jeffery dented OU for a 71-yard run that changed field position in the third quarter and could have changed momentum. Jeffery finished with 177 yards on 21 carries.
• Setting: A. Built into the barren Rockies, Sun Bowl Stadium remains one of the unique venues in college football. But playing a night game against Texas-El Paso even trumps the Sun Bowl game itself, in which the Sooners have thrice played. On New Year’s Eve, the Sun Bowl kicks off at noon or thereabouts. During a night game, OU fans could do something they’ve likely never done: watch the Sooners with a view of the lights of Mexico in the distance. Plus a gorgeous moon rose over the Franklin Mountains, and the UTEP marching band played Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” at halftime. Hard to top that.
• Kicking game: C. UTEP blocked a Tress Way punt and returned it for a touchdown. Then Miners blocked Michael Hunnicut low kick on a 44-yard field-goal attempt. There’s more. Neither of Patrick O’Hara’s first two kickoffs went for touchbacks, despite the new NCAA rule that moved kickoffs up to the 35-yard line. O’Hara third kickoff did produce a touchback. But the Sooners did stuff a UTEP fake punt in the fourth quarter (Jaydan Bird with the honors), Hunnicut nailed a go-ahead 38-yard field goal and Justin Brown returned a punt 26 yards, showing the skill that made him valuable at Penn State.
• Offensive line: C. The Sooners didn’t protect Landry Jones well, and the OU running game was just so-so. The Sooner tailbacks combined to carry 29 times for 190 yards, but Damien Williams’ late 65-yard TD run skewed the real story.
• Ball security: C. The Sooners didn’t commit a turnover, but not for lack of trying. A couple of early Landry passes could have been picked off, and the Sooners thrice fumbled the ball out of bounds. Lose the grip in the field of play, and this game might have gone the other way.
• Fan migration: B. Approximately 7,000 Sooner fans made the trip. Could have been more, considering it’s Labor Day Weekend, making this a drivable journey. But OU fans were in El Paso just 32 months ago for the Sun Bowl.
• Clean play: C. The Sooners didn’t have a ton of penalties (seven, for 55 yards), but the ones they had were costly. Dom Whaley’s chop block while pass blocking wiped out what would have been a 38-yard completion to Kenny Stills inside the UTEP 5-yard line. OU also committed two pass interference penalties on the same UTEP drive, which would have been costly had the Miners not missed a 31-yard field goal.
By Berry Tramel