The Norman Transcript

October 27, 2013

Unit becoming less and less special

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Oklahoma will move in the polls and BCS standings today, but its special teams play continued to decline Saturday.

The Sooners had a trio of bad special teams plays in the 38-30 victory over Texas Tech. The first contributed to OU’s slow offensive start. The last two were essential part of the Red Raiders’ rally from a two-touchdown deficit in the third quarter.

Michael Hunnicutt’s 53-yard field goal attempt on OU’s opening series was blocked by Texas Tech defensive lineman Kerry Hyder.

Midway through the third quarter, Tanner Jacobson returned a punt 32 yards when Jordan Davis — Texas Tech’s punt returner — faked like the punt was going out of bounds. OU’s punt coverage team bought the fake in every way imaginable. Kyle Marrs ended up making a touchdown-saving tackle. However, the return did ignite a field-goal drive.

The final special teams blunder came on the ensuing kick. Tech got OU off guard with an on-side kick, which the Red Raiders recovered.

Three plays later, Texas Tech had a 24-21 lead.

“We were poor again in awareness to some of their special teams plays. We’ve got to be more alert and be in better position there,” OU coach Bob Stoops said.

It was the fourth straight game a special teams bust has led to OU giving up a touchdown. Against TCU, the failure to field a pooch kick set up a touchdown. Against Texas, OU allowed a 95-yard punt return. Last week against Kansas, OU had a punt blocked that set up a touchdown.

Injuries: The injury to Trey Millard was a crippling one for Oklahoma. As head coach Bob Stoops pointed out after the game Millard marks the second senior team captain OU has lost for the season. Linebacker Corey Nelson suffered a season-ending pectoral injury Oct. 5.

For OU, Millard’s injury wasn’t the only one it had to deal with Saturday. Sophomore middle linebacker Frank Shannon limped off the field early in the first quarter and did not return.

The Sooners played virtually the entire game with true freshmen Dominique Alexander and Jordan Evans at the two inside linebacker spots.

Holding the Red Raiders to 30 points with two true freshman linebackers playing felt like a victory in itself.

“It doesn’t get much tougher from a defensive perspective when you’re playing with three freshmen right in the middle of your line. There aren’t many people in America doing that,” defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said with a nod to redshirt freshman nose guard Jordan Wade. “To beat a team of that caliber says a lot about those kids, and it says a lot about our team and our depth. I am really, really pleased. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but we made the plays when we needed to.”

Leading at halftime: The victory gave OU 40 straight wins when leading at halftime. The streak dates all the way back to the 2009 season. The last team to rally from a halftime deficit to beat the Sooners was Miami (Fla.) on Oct. 3, 2009.

Better on third down: For the second straight game, OU converted 50 percent of its third-down opportunities. The Sooners were 7 of 14 Saturday. They went 7 for 14 the previous week against Kansas.

“Blake (Bell) did a great job on third downs. He didn’t have a lot of opportunities on first and second down, especially in the second half, but he made the most of everything on third down, made some critical conversions,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said.

It was third down conversions that kick-started the offense and put the game away. Bell hit Jalen Saunders on three straight third downs during OU’s first touchdown drive.

On the drive that ended with Hunnicutt’s 37-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter, the Sooners got into field goal range with Bell’s 13-yard pass to Sterling Shepard to convert a third-and-8.

Shepard passes his dad: Shepard finished the day with five catches for 43 yards, bringing his career receptions total to 78. The sophomore surpassed his father, former OU great Derrick Shepard, on the school’s all-time receptions list.

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn

jshinn@normantranscript.com