By John Shinn
NORMAN — Oklahoma entered this season believing quarterback play to be its strength. After Saturday’s loss to Kansas State and the two games leading up to it, “strength” isn’t one of the many adjectives used to describe Landry Jones’ play.
The senior quarterback completed 28 of 43 attempts for 298 yards against the Wildcats. He threw one touchdown pass with four minutes to go. However, the dominant memories from the 24-19 loss were the errant passes that missed wide-open receivers, or the off-balance heave Kansas State safety Tyler Zimmerman intercepted to set up a go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter or the fumble that gave the Wildcats their first touchdown.
Jones didn’t hide from his mistakes.
“It’s frustrating,” he said. “We have a lot of good players on this offense — a lot of good backs, a lot of good offensive linemen, good receivers. We’ve got a lot of skill. But it seems like we can’t put it together.
“We’re playing a lot of dumb football — me especially. There were a lot of plays out there I needed to make for us to be successful.”
But it would be a misconception to believe Jones started struggling on Saturday. His play has been on a downward trajectory since November of last season. It started when then-star receiver Ryan Broyles suffered a season-ending knee injury.
In the seven games since, Jones has a pass efficiency rating of 120.01. That rating is 12 points below the NCAA average for all FBS quarterbacks in 2011 and 10 points lower than Jones’ rating at the end of his redshirt freshman season in 2009 (130.83). OU went 8-5 that year. Jones became the starter after a shoulder injury to Sam Bradford and he led an injury-riddled offense through a rebuilding year.
Jones reaped the rewards from it in 2010. His passer rating jumped to 146.31 in his sophomore season as he helped lead OU to a Big 12 Championship.
It’s been a slow regression since.
His rating was 141.56 last season. Through three games this season, it’s 135.84. But over the last seven games Jones has thrown 276 passes, completed 169 of them for 1,886 yards. He’s thrown six touchdown passes, but eight very costly interceptions, including another Saturday night.
OU coach Bob Stoops was diplomatic when asked about Jones’ play.
“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,” Stoops said. “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.”
Jones isn’t very good, and it was evident from OU’s opening series against the Wildcats. He completed his first six passes. None of them were spectacular. They were the simple short throws that have been a staple of the Sooners’ offense since 2008.
Then Jones missed tight end Brannon Green for what should have been a wide open 9-yard touchdown to complete the opening drive. The play-action pass to the tight end has been a primary play in OU’s red zone offense for years. Green was all alone. Jones just threw it behind him.
The drive stalled, OU settled for a field goal and Jones never seemed to recover. He wandered into the arms of Kansas State’s Jesse Tuggle early in the second quarter and that resulted in Jarell Childs’ fumble recovery in the end zone.
Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, who is three games into his second full season as the play caller, wouldn’t put all the blame on Jones. There was enough of it to go around. Backup quarterback Blake Bell fumbled away a potential touchdown in the second quarter. The Sooners rushed for a season low 88 yards.
“We are not where we need to be by any stretch of the imagination and anywhere where we’re capable of being. Things have got to change,” Heupel said. “We have got to come back (today) and need to refocus.”
One less mistake, and OU might have escaped with a victory. Jones’ struggles, however, didn’t suddenly crop up on Saturday. They’ve been around for a while.
“He’s our leader. I have full faith, trust and confidence in him. So I'm not going to say anything to him,” center Gabe Ikard said. “I know he’s going to bounce back well; come back, keep leading this team in practice and on the field.”