EL PASO, Texas — Tress Way's head was down as he watched the football drop toward his foot.
Then UTEP's Richard Spencer fell on the ball.
OU's Chuka Ndulue had missed a block, and Spencer slipped through, blocking Way's attempted punt.
Remember how coach Bob Stoops kept saying this preseason that it wasn't all about quarterback Landry Jones, that it was the 10 guys around him? Well, aforementioned play Saturday night wasn't Tress Way's fault. It was the 10 guys around him — specifically three players assigned to protect Way from harm: senior David King, junior Trey Millard and Ndulue.
Instead of the Sooners' first punt of the 2012 season sailing toward the other end zone, they found themselves chasing UTEP's Nathan Jeffery after he scooped up the ball and took it 24 yards for a touchdown.
Who says OU need a special teams coach? Stoops took care of the problem five plays later, when Way was about to punt again.
For Stoops, King is Mr. Reliable on defense. Millard is Mr. Do It All. And then, and this should come as no surprise, there's Gabe Ikard — Mr. Go-To, You-Tell-Me-And-I'll-Do-It, Coach.
Just like Stoops counted on Ikard to step up anytime former center Ben Habern suffered an injury, he turned to Ikard after the missed tackle on the first punt.
Part of Ikard's role the last two years was to block on the punt, but also to communicate with his line what they would be seeing on the field. On Saturday night, as Ikard put it, when the boss man says to do something, you better do it.
“Had a little communication error on the first one and Coach Stoops asked me to jump in there,” Ikard said. “Did what he asked me to do. Said he needed me.”
Special teams was in no way, error free. They did struggle, not as much as the Miners' three missed field goals and fake punt, but the Sooners' second mistake came in the second quarter.
Way was holding the ball for Michael Hunnicutt's 37-yard field goal attempt — until he fumbled the ball. The result was another blocked kick.
Games are won and lost off these kinds of errors. If you don't think so, look back at the first half, when UTEP could have gained a solid lead had it not missed two field goals, one on the opening drive of the game. Those are momentum changers — and possible game changers.
As the Sooners departed Sun Bowl Stadium, the attitude around the team was, “Hey, a win is a win.” Sure, until these special teams errors continue to creep and seep into the Sooners' play. Then a loss is a loss.