OU's Landry Jones struggling in 2012
For Sooners to improve, they need their senior quarterback to return to 2010 form
NORMAN, Okla. -- It might be difficult to remember now, but there was a reason why Landry Jones was a Heisman favorite last August.
After catastrophic performances in losses at Missouri and Texas A&M in 2010, Jones rebounded with fury. He completed 65 percent of his passes and tossed 16 touchdowns to only six picks, while quarterbacking the Sooners to five consecutive wins and an improbable Big 12 championship.
Unfortunately for Oklahoma, that feels like an eternity ago.
"I just feel like I'm kind of underachieving," Jones said this week. "I have to get a lot better, there's no doubt about that."
In many ways, however, Jones has gotten worse since 2010.
His arm is stronger than ever, yet his precision seems to be off.
His foot quickness is much improved, yet he's been bailing out of the pocket when there's been no pressure; other times, he's been holding on to the ball too long and taking unnecessary sacks.
And despite being a fifth-year player and four-year starter, Jones is committing turnovers that lose football games. Six turnovers, in fact, against OU's last two conference opponents, including Oklahoma State, which shellacked the Sooners by 34 points to end last season.
"It's not one thing," said offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. "It's Landry being better, Landry trusting his guys, it's our guys around him being better."
But Jones has struggled trusting his receivers since losing Ryan Broyles to injury last November. The Jones-to-Broyles connection -- six touchdowns in five games -- fueled the Sooners' Big 12 title run in 2010.
And last season, according to ESPN Stats & Info, Jones' completion percentage targeting Broyles was 76 percent. Jones also didn't throw a single interception when targeting Broyles, while connecting for 10 touchdowns.
But after Broyles tore his ACL, Jones' overall completion percentage dipped to 45 percent. And offensively, the Sooners haven't scored 40 points against an FBS opponent since.
"I don't know that one guy can make that much difference," coach Bob Stoops said Monday. "But Ryan was a first-team All-American and was pretty special as a player."
Problem is, Broyles now plays for the Detroit Lions. If Jones is going to turn this season around, he'll have to do it without his longtime security blanket.
The good news is, Jones has bounced back from disaster before.
In the 2010 loss to Missouri, he famously went 0-of-7 passing with an interception in the fourth quarter. Then at Texas A&M, he drove the Sooners into field goal range just once the entire first half as the Aggies jumped to a 19-0 lead.
The rest of the way, Jones was hardly flawless. But he was undoubtedly clutch.
At Oklahoma State with the Big 12 South Division on the line, Jones unloaded two touchdown bombs 29 seconds apart late in the fourth quarter to stave off the Cowboys.
After that stretch, Jones noted that he had developed a "different mindset," refusing to allow a poor throw or turnover affect his confidence.
"It's not like he played perfect in those games," Heupel said. "But he was resilient, he kept coming back and kept playing the next play. That's how you end up with wins in close ball games. That's who we need to be."
To make another run at the Big 12 title, the Sooners have to be better in many areas. They have to rush the ball more efficiently to take pressure off the passing game. They have to get more disruption from the defensive line. And they can't turn receivers loose on key third downs like they did against Kansas State.
But above all, the Sooners need their quarterback to regain his mindset. And be the same resilient player he was two years ago.
"The guys are watching me -- to see where we're going with this offense and find out what we're going to be," Jones said. "But this isn't foreign territory for us. We've been in this situation before.
"And we're going to bounce back."
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