What a difference a year makes.
At this point last season, Oklahoma was ranked third in the AP Top 25 thanks to a 5-0 record and many were picking the Sooners to win the Big 12 and potentially even the national championship.
Quarterback Landry Jones was coming off of a 367-yard, three-touchdown performance in a 55-17 win over No. 11 Texas, his fourth game of least 350 yards passing in five tries, and he had entered the early discussion for Heisman contenders.
Much has changed since then.
The Sooners would go on to lose three of their final seven regular season games in 2011, finishing ranked 16th after beginning the year as the preseason No. 1.
Jones, too, struggled with inconsistency down the stretch, especially after wide receiver Ryan Broyles, his favorite target, tore his ACL on Nov. 5 against Texas A&M. Jones would finish his 2011 campaign with 4,463 passing yards along with 29 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, strong statistics but hardly Heisman-worthy.
Oklahoma has looked vulnerable to start the 2012 season, as it led UTEP by just three points entering the fourth quarter and fell 24-19 to Kansas State in its third game of the season. Once again, whether it is fair or not, much of the criticism has fallen on Jones, as the Sooner’s offense has sputtered in two of its first four games on its way to a 3-1 start.
“It drives me nuts that we’re kind of underachieving right now,” Jones said. “I feel like, specifically for myself, I’ve definitely been underachieving this whole year.”
This year Jones’ statistics are once again solid, yet unspectacular. He has completed 63.3 percent of his passes for 1,032 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions in four games, and his passer rating sits at 135.2.
Jones has been unable to match the output from his breakout sophomore season, when he threw for 4,718 yards and 38 touchdowns against only 12 picks, but he has been undoubtedly productive in his four years with the Sooners. Following Oklahoma’s loss to Kansas State Sept. 15, head coach Bob Stoops admitted that Jones’ performance — 28-for-43, one touchdown and one interception — was not among his best, but he believes that blaming just him for the team’s struggles is unwarranted.
“Not very well overall,” Stoops said of Jones’ performance against the Wildcats. “But again, I don’t think it’s fair to say “Landry Jones.” I think it’s fair to say the guys around him, also were inconsistent. But again, some of the plays that stick out to everybody, that weren’t very good, when you’re turning the football over it’s going to kill you.”
Teammates have seconded these sentiments, showing full faith that the fifth-year senior quarterback will be able to once again lead the Sooners to prominence.
“Landry is a great player,” freshman wide receiver Sterling Shepard said. “Sometimes nights aren’t the way you expect them to be, but he is going to come back and he is going to come back strong.”
Jones will face a major opportunity to silence his critics Saturday against the Longhorns. He is 2-0 as a starter against Texas in his career, and he played well filling in during a 16-13 loss to the Longhorns in 2009 after starter Sam Bradford was forced to leave the game with an injured shoulder. Overall, Jones has thrown for six touchdowns and two interceptions in three games against his rival to the south.
Jones will not be the only Oklahoma quarterback that the Longhorns have to account for, either, as sophomore Blake Bell has become a deadly short yardage threat for the Sooners. In his career Bell has rushed for 14 touchdowns, including 13 as a freshman in 2011, and he has earned 174 yards on 54 career carries.
That said, the Sooners’ fate in this ranked matchup will likely rest on the arm of their senior starting quarterback. Jones knows that despite his team’s inconsistency, Oklahoma still has the opportunity to contend for a conference and perhaps even national title, but another loss would considerably hurt their chances.
“Typically every year there’s a one-loss team in the championship game, both Big 12 and the national championship,” Jones said. “So it’s still out in front of us. Definitely going to be tough if we lose another one, that’s for sure. But we’re going to regroup.”
The Longhorns would love to be the ones to compromise Oklahoma’s title hopes. Whether they do that or not could very well come down to the right arm of Jones.
Printed on Wednesday, October 10, 2012 as: Jones returns to lead Sooners