Saturday, October 2, 2010
OU's Landry Jones second to none
By Tim MacMahon ESPNDallas.com
DALLAS -- It's taken five games for Oklahoma's Landry Jones to go from the Big 12's biggest question mark to arguably its best quarterback.
Let's be brutally honest: That's pretty faint praise. Quality quarterbacks are suddenly hard to find in a conference that had four passers finish among the top four in Heisman votes the last few years, including 2008 winner Sam Bradford.
Landry Jones may not yet have reached the level of Sam Bradford, but both have the same number of Red River Rivalry wins.
Obviously, Jones pales in comparison to his predecessor. But he did match Bradford's Red River Rivalry win total with a solid performance in the Sooners' 28-20 win over Texas on Saturday afternoon.
Jones completed 24 of 39 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns in a turnover-free performance at the Cotton Bowl, a dramatic improvement from giving the ball away three times in a loss to UT last season.
Even Bradford couldn't have thrown a better pass than Jones' 16-yard touchdown strike to Kenny Stills in the first quarter, when he had perfect touch while putting the ball in a tiny window where Stills could catch it despite tight coverage.
No quarterback in the Big 12 has thrown for more yards than Jones' 1,457 in the first five games. He's tied for second in the league with 11 touchdown passes and has been picked off only three times -- and just once since a shaky season opener.
The most important stat for Jones, of course, is the No. 8 Sooners' 5-0 record. He had a rough redshirt freshman season when forced to fill in for the injured Bradford, but Jones is good enough now for Oklahoma to believe it can run the table during a down season in the Big 12.
"He's made the plays when we needed them," receiver Ryan Broyles said.
Texas' Garrett Gilbert and Texas A&M's Jerrod Johnson got much more preseason hype, but that's died down as the Longhorns' offense sputtered and Johnson invented creative ways to commit turnovers.
OK, Baylor fans: You're puffing out your chests at this point, having downed about a dozen Dr Peppers while celebrating the Bears' blowout of Kansas. You're ranting about Robert Griffin III, who is fresh off accounting for 444 total yards and four touchdowns against the Jayhawks.
But I'll believe Griffin is back to his pre-torn ACL form, which would make him this Big 12's best quarterback, when he performs well against a quality foe. He was way too hesitant to give Baylor a chance to come close to scaring No. 5 TCU a couple of weeks ago.
Jones, on the other hand, has been above-average to awesome against the Sooners' most respectable foes. He torched Florida State for 380 yards and four touchdowns in a rout that dropped the Seminoles from the rankings. He threw for 370 yards and two touchdowns with one interception in a road win over defending Big East champion Cincinnati. And he was efficient against the Longhorns despite Texas' trio of elite cornerbacks.
"The guy's playing fabulously," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "He's playing great. He's a solid player. He has a great arm and quick release. He's smart and is taking care of the ball."
Well, there was one notable exception Saturday to that whole taking-care-of-the-ball concept.
Jones' stunning fumble with about 90 seconds remaining almost allowed Texas to tie a game it had trailed since the Sooners marched 83 yards on the opening possession. OU offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson blamed malfunctioning headphones for pre-play communication issues, but it's still inexcusable for a scrambling Jones to allow linebacker Emmanuel Acho to force a fumble when a turnover is Texas' only chance.
"From the beginning, it was messed up," Jones said. "I went the wrong way on the snap and then tried to roll out to get myself back into the play. I was trying to throw it away when that guy raked it out. ... I hit it and then I saw guys just diving for me. It was pretty lucky on our part to have that ball go out of bounds and not have a big turnover there."
That fortunate bounce is pretty symbolic of these Sooners: They're an imperfect 5-0 team that has had some luck on their side this season.
You can nitpick Jones, but you can't pick a Big 12 quarterback who is clearly better.
Tim MacMahon is a reporter and columnist for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.