Jones off to shaky start to season for Sooners

Landry Jones is an accomplished quarterback. So why is he off to a shaky start this season?

NORMAN, Okla. — Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones will finish his career as the school leader in wins. He's already the Sooner record-holder in passing yards, touchdown passes and completions.

Jones will finish his career ranked in the NCAA's all-time top 10 in yards and passing touchdowns. Jones has 21 games where he has thrown for 300 yards or more. His career completion percentage is 62.7.

Undoubtedly, Jones is an accomplished quarterback. His record and stats prove it.

But when Kansas State comes to town Sept. 22 — the Sooners' next game — there's a feeling Jones might not be the best quarterback on the field.

Seems silly, really, when you think about it. After all, Jones came into last year as a Heisman candidate, an NFL first-round pick. But by the end of the season, there was no Heisman. There was no BCS game. There was no NFL, either. Jones chose to return for a final season at Oklahoma. He wasn't even chosen as the preseason All-Conference quarterback. Geno Smith of West Virginia got that honor.

There also wasn't great success.

Despite the sensational stats, Jones has struggled of late. Dating back the past seven games, Jones has just seven touchdown passes, the exact same number as Kansas State's Collin Klein. He also has seven interceptions in that span. Klein has three.

While, K-State's offense makes the fullback dive look creative, Klein has slowly improved his passing numbers. Sure, the Wildcats would prefer to run the ball, but here's Klein through two games this season having completed 28-of-39 passes. Plus, K-State and Klein have an impressive win over Miami (Fla.) while the Sooners limped past UTEP and then beat up on Florida A&M, teams Jones should have easily shredded.

No one sees Klein as the better passer, certainly. But the better player?

"All in all I'm pretty pleased with the way I'm playing right now," Jones said.

Coaches at Oklahoma agree, "He's been accurate when he's been able to set his feet," co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. He actually graded out really well. His numbers didn't indicate it. He graded out well this week, too, and the numbers were better."

Well, while the OU coaching grading system seems to be a shaky criteria, considering the rest of us don't really know what goes into it, Jones just hasn't looked like the same quarterback he did his sophomore year and into November of last year. Jones had 26 touchdown passes the first eight games of 2011. In the seven games since, Jones doesn't have a 300-yard passing game and has thrown seven interceptions. He has completed 62 percent of his passes this year and is averaging 237 per game, but again, the competition level isn't notable.

So, what's the issue?

Maybe it's because there's no Ryan Broyles. The former Sooner, the all-time leading pass catcher in NCAA history, injured his knee last year. He missed the last four games of the season. OU finished up 2-2, and Jones was unable to develop consistency with any other receiver.

Maybe it's the success of the "Belldozer" — the Sooner rushing package where Jones gets replaced by Blake Bell on nearly every short-yardage and goal-line situation. It's got to be tough to keep coming out of games.

Maybe it's the new-and-improved rushing game. Damien Williams has 259 yards and five touchdowns on just 20 touches, but he wasn't around when the Sooners had virtually no running game the second half of the season after Dominique Whaley went down with an injury. Positive rushing yards certainly have a direct influence on passing yards. Williams has been a positive, averaging 12.9 yards per carry. He also had an 89-yard run for a touchdown against Florida A&M.

Maybe it's a confidence issue. Jones felt the need to do something different. He went off campus during the offseason, choosing to work with California quarterback guru George Whitfield. Or, it could be the sacks. So far this season, Jones has been dropped six times. Last year, OU gave up a total of 11.

Maybe it's because of all the new faces at receiver. Kenny Stills is the only receiver on the roster who caught a pass in 2011.

"The main reason he's not getting those numbers is because we're running the ball," center Gabe Ikard said. "He's not going to get a lot of chances to throw when Damien is rushing for 90-yard touchdowns."

"The thing is we have new receivers and new personnel," said left tackle Lane Johnson. "It takes some time to get in sequence with those guys. Timing is a big issue. As the season progresses, you'll see him be more efficient."

So far, Jones has been shaky. He had a first-quarter interception against Florida A&M and threw another pass that should have been intercepted. Blame it on new receivers and "busted" routes, according to Heupel, but Jones has not looked confident. Yes, he has improved his foot work in the pocket, something he credits to his offseason workouts, but he also looks easier to scare and quicker to shuffle his feet.

And both opponents are well below the level of competition the Sooners will see when Kansas State and one of the sturdiest quarterbacks come to Norman.

Klein would never be confused with flashy. Then again, neither is Kansas State. What Klein is, is consistent. He had 19 or more carries in every game but one last season. He had 34 rushes against Texas A&M and scored five times. This year, he carried 13 times in a blowout win over Missouri State and 22 times against Miami — a game in which he also completed 9-of-11 passes.

"We have not played our best game yet," Klein said at Kansas State's weekly press conference Monday in Manhattan, Kan. "That is what we are trying to strive for. We are just trying to get better and put another good leg in on the race."

Last season, Jones had his finest game against Kansas State. He threw for 505 yards and five touchdowns, each the most in his career. That was seven games ago. He hasn't been the same since.

"He comes to work every day and tries to get better," Johnson said of Jones. "As long as we're winning, it means we're doing something right."

But it sure seems like it could be a lot better.

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