All day Saturday watching college football, there were reminders of how badly college football needs exhibition football games that don't count.
These first games are impossible to evaluate. Observers have no idea how good or bad UTEP is. Nelson Jeffery could go for 1,300 yards this year behind a decent UTEP OL. Or UTEP could go 2-10 and be awful.
With that in mind, here's an assessment of Oklahoma's performance in the Sooners' 24-7 victory over UTEP.
*Kenny Stills – Stills took a lot criticism for not stepping up last year when Ryan Broyles got hurt. But Saturday night he was the Sooner's best offensive weapon and played a good game. He seemed pretty comfortable in the slot. He made plays. His big play potential from the slot is still there.
*Damien Williams – This one comes with a huge caveat. Williams probably has earned the start at running back for the Florida A&M game. He runs with greater authority and with a better burst than a tentative Dom Whaley right now. Caveat: The big TD run was against a tired UTEP D, but you could see signs of that big run coming before that play during the previous series.
*Pass coverage – Mike Stoops is back. The defensive backfield is organized, and guys are in the right position. This secondary by the end of the year could give passing offenses fits, with Colvin and Hurst looking like elite CBs. Linebackers are making intermediate drops and getting in passing lanes.
*Third down defense – Brent Venables' defenses just seemed to give up big plays on third down all the time. Mike turned 3rd and 5 or more into a punt down with pressure on the QB and coverage.
*Justin Brown's one punt return – Brown clearly has a feel for the punt return game and did a nice job with the one real opportunity he got. He could end up making a big play there.
*Run defense – Run D got gashed way too often. Defensive end run support was spotty from all three DEs who played the majority of the reps. A lot of that came from new players and limited depth inside.
Fix: Getting Casey Walker back and the DEs staying in their run fits will help a lot with this issue.
*Dom Whaley – He looked tentative and rusty. He didn't resemble the RB pre-injury of last year. He showed none of the same burst and power, plus his ball security was suspect.
Fix: Hopefully, this is just rust and gaining confidence in his rebuilt ankle. But, for now, the answer should be more Damien Williams and maybe an Alex Ross sighting.
*Tom Wort – He was a big part of the running defense struggling. Wort at MIKE LB might be overmatched. He's not making anyone forget Lehman, Calmus, Marshall, Mitchell or Lofton.
Fix: Hopefully working with Kish, Wort will improve. It's getting late for that fix to happen.
*Underutilization of Trey Millard – Just woeful. One of the best early play calls was a short pass to Millard. Josh Heupel never went back to it. Millard as feature back got yardage. Again, never went back to it.
Fix: Heupel could decide to use Millard more, but 13 regular season and two bowl games later, it's hard to think that will actually happen.
*Heupel's play calling – OU is starting out flat on offense almost every game since Josh Heupel took over as offensive coordinator. Low-scoring first quarters have replaced the fast starts seen under Kevin Wilson. There's no pace or rhythm to the offense. It's haphazard with no real flow.
Fix: It's year two. I'm not sure Heupel has it to be an OC. This is a critical problem that will lead to several losses. You cannot be weak at OC at this time in this league.
*Landry Jones' poise and accuracy under pressure – So Landry did look better in the pocket at times, which he then negated by throwing inaccurately on the run on third down, killing drives. In addition, he's still locking on the slot WR position and missing reads on other receivers who are wide open. His downfield accuracy is also hit or miss. That's making it hard for OU to attack over the top against these weaker teams.
Fix: He's a fifth-year senior. He is what he is.
*Jones' NFL future – Jones returning to OU has probably cost him an NFL first-round contract and millions of dollars in guaranteed money. Bob should have shoved him out the door to cash the damn check. He's staring at being a fourth-round draft pick now.
Fix: He is what he is.
*Special teams – The punt block. The dropped snap, leading to a blocked field goal. The punt returns. Is OU finding ways to lose games in this third area of football? Special teams is all about focus and attention to detail. Bob not hiring a special teams guru when Wilson left was a huge mistake.
Fix: Tress Way has been reliable as the holder, so that shouldn't happen again. The punt block was scary and needs a lot of work at practice. Again, it's fixable, but who is responsible for the fix?
*Who is the head coach at OU? Mike is arguing calls made against the offense, he's calling for timeouts, he's doing the sideline interview after halftime. And according to most observers, Mike was the animated coach trying to pump up the team.
Has Bob lost the drive/edge to be a college coach? Where's the fire and intensity? If Bob is done and wants to spend time with his family, no problem – just quit. But don't drag this thing out over a couple of years to try and get your brother the job.
*Can OU play a good game at night any longer? Why does the team always look flat for night games? Bob's management read on what the team needs to be "on" for a night game is completely screwed. The guys don't look ready mentally to play.
*If Blake Bell does not have "it" at QB, OU could be looking at a gradual decline with good seasons of 8 or 9 wins, but no great seasons (Big 12 titles, BCS contention). Also known as the "John Cooper Effect."
1. JUCO LB – Recruiting here probably needs further scrutiny. To become a great defense, OU may need a new MIKE LB. Devante Bond at Pierce JUCO could be the answer.
2. JUCO DTs – I'd be panicking if I was Jackie Shipp. He's got to land two JUCO DTs who can enroll early. The rebuilding job on defense that Mike has going will be crippled without it.
3. JUCO OL – Too soon to tell. It was just game one.
4. JUCO TE – Not much to deter or excite star JUCO TE Beau Sandland so far.