Outside of the safety on a blocked punt in the fourth quarter, OU’s special teams did a lot more harm than good, and the self-inflicting wounds started with the opening kickoff.
Senior running back DeMarco Murray was flagged for nine yards, half the distance from the 18-yard line, on a personal foul for throwing a ball at an Aggies defender. The penalty gave the Sooners’ offense bad field position and led to a safety when the next play’s snap sailed through the back of the end zone.
While the penalty was not the direct cause of the safety, it did not help the Sooners’ cause in getting off to a good start on the road.
The second half’s opening kick was even more devastating to OU’s chances of winning after coming out of the locker room trailing 12-0.
Junior Coryell Judie returned the kick 100 yards for a touchdown to expand the Aggies’ lead to 19-0. The touchdown was the second that OU has given up on kickoffs in the past three weeks, with the other return coming on the opening kickoff in the loss against Missouri.
During those three weeks, sophomore linebacker Ronnell Lewis has been sidelined with a knee injury. Lewis had become a well-known name because of his two bone-rattling hits against Stanford in the Sun Bowl and had continued his good play on special teams this season.
Again, Lewis’ injury may not be related to the coverage team’s recent struggles, but it is a fact that is hard to ignore.
But, the most damaging special teams mistakes had to come when the Sooners lined up for field goals.
While trailing by two points midway through the fourth quarter, head coach Bob Stoops sent his field goal unit out to attempt a fake field goal. The play call caught the Aggies off guard, but the execution was off the mark.
Senior holder John Nimmo, who is also the team’s third-string quarterback, threw a bomb in stride to junior tight end James Hanna, but he could not hang on to the ball while he was crossing the goal line.
“Those guys are good kids, they play hard, it just wasn’t meant to be,” said Stoops, whose team fell to 7-2 overall and 3-2 in the Big 12. “I thought that was a big momentum switch right there.”
After the Aggies added a touchdown to take a 26-17 lead, sophomore kicker Patrick O’Hara, who made a 45-yard field goal in the third quarter, knuckled and hooked a 36-yard attempt to the left.
“I went with [O’Hara] just because he had just made such a good one already,” Stoops said. “Yeah, what are you going to do? He hit a bad kick.”
The special teams’ failures could be another piece to the big-picture question of why OU struggles away from Norman, and from start to finish that squad just about killed the Sooners.