Senior defensive lineman Marcus Bagley said he felt the game could have gone in a different direction had three plays occurred differently. Head coach Mike Price agreed. But despite the what ifs, it was No. 4 Oklahoma who came out on top in a 24-7 victory against the UTEP Miners Sept. 1 at the Sun Bowl.
In a matter of three minutes, the Miners went from being down by three and driving near mid-field, to trailing by 10 with just over 10 minutes to go in the game.
"We gave up fewer points than they had (ever scored) last year in the fist half, seven points, and we just gave up three bad plays in the (fourth) quarter that changed the game," Bagley said.
After the UTEP offense stalled at their own 38, Price went with a fake punt that failed and gave the Sooners the ball back at the 41. Oklahoma, who were 2-of-12 at the point on third down conversions, succeeded on two-consecutive third downs in the same drive. Then, they did what the Miners' offense failed to do all game, when they capitalized in opponent's territory. Senior QB Landry Jones connected with tight end Brannon Green from 18-yards out to put Oklahoma up 17-7 with 10:32 left in the game.
Price took credit for the failed-fake punt but felt the seven injuries that occurred in the game had some effect on it.
"We had two substitutes who didn't know it. It was intended to go to Jeffery but he pulled a groin so (sophomore running back Josh) Bell got in there, they identified Bell but it was there every time," Price said. "And the one time we decided to do it, Nathan was hurt and Bell was a substitute and they identified it."
The Sooner would go on to add one more touchdown late in the game to seal the 24-7 victory.
UTEP's offense was unable to rack up any points in the entire game, with their lone touchdown coming off special teams, which put them up first in the contest.
"They're great players but our receivers are great players, too, and we had a couple of opportunities to make plays and I just think we have to execute that a little bit better," senior quarter back Nick Lamaison said.
Sophomore running back Nathan Jeffery not only carried the Miners on offense with 21 carries for 177 yards, but he was responsible UTEP's lone touchdown. With nine minutes to go in the first quarter and the Sooners punting, senior Richard Spencer blocked the kick, which Jeffery recovered and returned 24 yards for the first score.
The Miners had at least three chances to add points on the board, starting with their first possession of the game, when they picked up 58 yards on 10 plays but senior Dakota Warren missed a 41-yard attempt to give UTEP the early lead.
The Miners began their second drive of the second quarter at mid-field after a 26-yard punt return by senior WR Mike Edwards, but Warren missed another field goal, this one from 31-yards out.
Sophomore kicker Steven Valadez stepped in for Warren on UTEP's third attempt, shortly after Jeffery's game-long 71-yard run from the Miners' three-yard line. But it was the same result as Valadez missed wide right from 41 yards, too.
Lamaison struggled in the first half, going 3-of-13 for 17 yards and finished 6-of-23 for 39 yards. His counterpart, and Heisman nominee, senior Landry Jones, went 21-of-36 for 222 yards and two touchdowns.
Jones' favorite target, junior WR Kenny Stills, finished with 121 yards receiving on six catches and one touchdown. His longest catch of 68 yards tied the game up at seven in the first quarter.
Both teams were unable to show much offense, especially on third down, where Oklahoma went 2-of-8 and UTEP went 2-of-9 in that position. The Sooners had 183 total offensive yards, while the Miners had 109.
Jones and head coach Bob Stoops were not surprised UTEP gave them the type of contest they did, but felt they struggled themselves on offense, especially.