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Game Preview: Oklahoma Sooners-UTEP Miners

Sun Bowl
Oklahoma Sooners at UTEP Miners

Sept. 1, 9:30 p.m. CT
Sun Bowl Stadium (El Paso, Texas)
Vegas Line: OU -31

Texas-El Paso will be a good test for the Sooners Saturday night. Sure, the Miners finished 5-7 a year ago, but Oklahoma will be playing away from the friendly confines of Owen Field. Plus, OU has some questions that need to be addressed.

  • How will the offensive line perform after losing two starters (Ben Habern and Tyler Evans) to injury?
  • Will the running game be solid with the return of veterans Dom Whaley, Brennan Clay, Roy Finch and the addition of Damien Williams, a junior college transfer who is expected to see a lot of action?
  • Will the receivers perform as well as expected?
  • How will Landry Jones play against a heavy pass rush?
  • Will Mike Stoops' return restore the defense to its previous glory?

The Sooners have been pegged as 31-point favorites, and they should blow out the Miners like they did in 2000 (55-14) and 2002 (68-0).

ABOUT THE MINERS

Nick LamaisonUTEP's starting quarterback, Nick Lamaison, returns. He completed 130 of 224 passes (58 percent) for 1,718 yards with 12 TDs and 10 INTs for a 131.2 QB rating. His main target will be back, too. Mike Edwards caught 50 passes for 657 yards (13.1 yards per catch) and 3 TDs. The O-line returns four to the front wall and will need to replace the right guard from last year. Center Eloy Atkinson (6-3, 300) was an honorable mention all-Conference USA selection in 2011 and will be the leader of the line.

The Miners' biggest concern could be the running game. The top three rushers from a year ago have graduated, and that leaves tailback Nathan Jeffrey as the heir apparent to handle the biggest share of the carries. As the teams' fourth-leading rusher, he rushed 26 times for 166 yards (6.4 per carry avg.) and 1 TD a year ago.

The UTEP offense finished 2011 ranked 64th in total offense and 62nd in scoring offense.

The defense returns half of its front four. End Horace Miller should be a force as he started only six games in '11 and recorded 36 tackles, 8 for loss, 5 sacks and 7 quarterback hurries.

Only one part-time starter returns to the three-man linebacking corps. Josh Fely started in four games, saw plenty of action in others and finished third in tackles a year ago with 61 stops.

Safety DeShawn Grayson returns to lead the secondary. He finished second on the squad with 67 tackles. He also had 2 INTs and broke up five passes. The Imers do need to replace the strong safety and left corner from last year's squad.

The D was ranked 104th in total defense and 86th in scoring defense in 2011.

On special teams, UTEP will have all of its kickers back this year. Punter Ian Campbell, an all-conference honorable mention pick in '11, averaged 46.1 yards per kick, and one-third of them landed inside the 20-yard line. Dakota Warren hit 32 of 34 (94.1 percent) of PATs, but only 13 of 22 (59.1 percent) of his field goal attempts. His longest was 47 yards.

Edwards will return punts this year. As a backup last year, he returned 8 for 82 yards and no TDs.

GAME OUTLOOK

Both teams had dismal defenses in 2011... UTEP gave up 441.5 yards per game (6.3 per play)... The Miners yielded nearly 252 passing yards per game... Landry Jones should have success versus a secondary that has to replace two players... OU's receiving corps will be one to watch... Kenny Stills needs to step up and be the leader of the group... Justin Brown's transfer from Penn State will bring needed experience... The others are talented, but have yet to step onto the college gridiron... TE Geneo Grissom should be a good addition after switching to the position in fall camp... The Sooners have turned to Mike Stoops again to rectify a defense that was Jekyll & Hyde in 2011... The D yielded an average 548.4 yards against Missouri, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Baylor and Oklahoma State... Two-thirds of those yards came through the air... The defense gave up 268.5 yards per contest versus the other 8 opponents, (164.4 passing per game)... OU's O-line did a decent job of protecting Jones last year and should be able to do so again in 2012 despite losing two starters... Gave up only 11 sacks and had 8 false starts and 3 holding penalties in '11... But, the big question is can they open some gaping holes for the running backs?... The Sooners have some talented RBs, but they will only be as good as the line will let them... Look for improvement on the ground... OU's defense should be better from front to back... Linebackers are solid, secondary should be improved, and the DEs are talented and have experience... The biggest concern could be the D-Line's interior... Casey Walker is reliable and Jamarkus McFarland should be improved... Stacy McGee is suspended, but DE David King sliding into the position will be a positive... Jeffrey will challenge OU's front four... Nick Lamaison will be good enough to challenge OU's secondary... This should be a practice game for the Sooners, but if they think that way, they could be in for a long night.

ETC.

  • OU's season opening record is 88-22-6 (78.4%).
  • UTEP's season opening record is 42-46-4 (47.4%).
  • OU's record opening on the road: 32-11-2 (73.3%).
  • UTEP's season opening record at home is 35-17-3 (66.4%).
  • Bob Stoops is 11-2 (84.6%) in season openers.
  • Mike Price is 5-2 in season openers at UTEP.
  • OU's record at Sun Bowl Stadium is 3-0 (all in bowl games).
  • OU is 2-0 on Sept. 1st (44-3 vs. Air Force in 2001 and 79-10 vs. North Texas in 2007).
  • UTEP is 1-4 on Sept. 1st.
  • Stoops and Price met in the 2003 Rose Bowl when Price was head coach at Washington State. OU won, 34-13.