It was a factor in putting Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden over Landry Jones on list of the Big 12's best players of 2010, and it's been a topic of conversation since Jones took over as the Sooners' starting quarterback last season: Just how valuable are the short throws to Jones and the Sooners' offensive success?
This email nearly made it in last week's Mailbag, but I saved it for its own post and did a little homework.
Matt in Norman wrote: "In the debate between Weeden and Jones, you keep bringing up the fact that jones through lots of swing passes to murray and broyles. But you bring no statistics. We all know he did, but was it really enough to be used in your argument? At least have some statistics to compare the two. You work at ESPN, use your resources."
Well, Matt, ask and you shall receive. (See chart at right). Unfortunately, because they had a pair of untelevised games, the statistics for Oklahoma State were unavailable, but ESPN Stats and Info was able to put together Jones' statistics for throws at or behind the line of scrimmage.
We'll have to keep the Weeden/Jones comparisons set aside for now, but it's pretty obvious how important the short passing game is to the Sooners.
Jones finished with 4,718 yards and 38 touchdowns on 405-of-617 passing, more attempts and more completions than any player in college football.
But like I've said, those numbers are inflated. Screens -- but really, more so swing passes -- are an extension of the run game, more reflective of receivers' blocking skill than Jones' passing skill. That's not to say Jones doesn't make throws that hit his receivers in stride to keep the play flowing, but it is to say his gaudy numbers come with plenty of help from other places.
Of Jones' total production, here's how much came on passes behind the line of scrimmage:
Attempts: 27.4 percent
Completions: 35.1 percent
Yards: 19.1 percent
Touchdowns: 13.2 percent
Interceptions: 16.7 percent
It was pretty clear that Oklahoma had two outstanding playmakers in DeMarco Murray and Ryan Broyles who could make a whole lot happen with the ball in their hands. Jones is clearly an excellent passer, but Oklahoma's offense was built around getting them the ball. Broyles is clearly a more viable downfield threat, but both are extremely hard to bring down in the open field.
Here's how their production broke down from passes behind or at the line of scrimmage:
Receptions: 39 percent
Yardage: 21.3 percent
Receptions: 72 percent
Yardage: 63 percent
That's a huge chunk, especially from Murray, whose solid rushing totals (1,253 yards) are boosted when you consider how many of his receiving yards (373 of 594) came on catches behind or at the line of scrimmage.
He's gone now, so it'll be interesting to see how Oklahoma proceeds without him. Considering how little we've seen of them, I can't speak to Oklahoma's returning running backs' receiving talents, but it's a safe bet that none of them will be as skilled as Murray.
It'll be fascinating to see this season how Jones develops as a junior without Murray. I'd expect Broyles' touches and targets to go up a bit, but Oklahoma's offense would be well-served to find another running back who can leak out of the backfield to catch those short passes. With Murray gone, the opportunity is there.
Just like last season, Jones' stat line would be the biggest benefactor.