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September 8, 2010Landry Jones' season opener was a forgettable one for the sophomore quarterback. After Jones put together his most complete performance during last season's Sun Bowl victory over Stanford, it was expected Jones would come out a more confident, more polished quarterback in 2010.
That didn't happen as Jones completed just 17-of-36 passes for 217 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions against Utah State. It was a game that started out as a blowout victory, when the Sooners took a quick 21-0 lead, but they ended up squeaking out a 31-24 victory.
So what happened to Jones on Saturday inside Memorial Stadium, a place where he set the school record for touchdown passes just a year ago? A place where he always looked so comfortable last season, even with a makeshift offensive line and a group of questionable receivers?
Jones came up with the bases loaded, and he just whiffed.
"I just didn't come out and play the way I'm capable of playing," Jones admitted on Tuesday.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson theorized Jones was trying to be too perfect in his home opener. After all, Jones had been mentioned as a Heisman Trophy contender by at least one national media personality the week before the opener.
"I don't know if he just got a little concerned or a little rushed, I think he may have been pressing," said Wilson.
Oklahoma's offensive coordinator went on to describe a simple pass play to Ryan Broyles that summarized Jones' opener in his eyes.
"He was too quick," said Wilson. "It was a little outcut to Ryan and he undershot it. It was unreasonable quick."
Bob Stoops defended his quarterback by saying the offensive gameplan for Utah State was "held back", and that his quarterback was working with a limited playbook.
It's the job of coaches to protect their players from criticism. What is said in the film room isn't usually for public consumption. But Jones was so off kilter in his first outing, it was painfully obvious to Sooner fans who have sat through teams featuring Josh Heupel, Jason White and Sam Bradford, that Jones just had a really rough outing last week.
It was said many times by Stoops, Heupel and Wilson during the offseason that Jones needed the players around him to be better.
On Saturday night, Demarco Murray had 218 yards rushing. The running game was there.
Ryan Broyles caught nine passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns. The reliable receiver was also there. Cameron Kenney also stepped up and provided a solid second option for Jones.
The offensive line was solid, if not unspectacular.
What was missing, was the quarterback, and that was painfully obvious for everyone in the stadium to see. Even Bob Stoops was critical of Jones' performance in his post-game press conference.
It was easy for the casual fan to notice Jones' uneasiness in the pocket. On multiple occasions Jones' offensive line provided him a classic pocket. All he had to do was take a step or two forward and find the open man. But on multiple occasions Jones rolled out of the pocket and straight into pressure.
It was so obvious even his quarterbacks coach brought it up on Tuesday.
"He needs to trust his protection a little bit and sit in the pocket and make a couple of throws," said Heupel.
But the outing last weekend doesn't have Jones looking over his shoulder. The coaching staff is still behind their starting quarterback. Their focus is now on forgetting what happened against Utah State, and moving forward with their starting quarterback.
"He came out and played extremely well early in the ball game,' said Heupel. "A couple of things happened protectionally and some things on the back end, he maybe tried to escape the wrong direction in the pocket. Other than that, there's a lot of correctable things that he'll be able to hopefully correct and play better on Saturday."
"He needs to play better, and he has. He has all camp," added Wilson. "I don't think there's been many days when walked out there saying man, he wasn't good today. We were not alarmed, but surprised that he wasn't cleaner than we expected."
Jones can get better help from some of his young receivers like Kenny Stills. Jones relied on Stills early, but they never found a connection until later in the game. Their lack of chemistry was definitely a big part of the offense stalling out after taking a 21-0 lead.
Jones ended last season relying on Broyles, Jaz Reynolds and Dejuan Miller as his main receivers. This year he still has Broyles in the fold, but Stills, Kenney and Miller are all players Jones has to develop a better chemistry with on gamedays.
"We had a lot of young guys playing, and it is the first game and you're going to have those mistakes," said Jones. "But we need to get better from it, and we need to come out and play better against Florida State."
Jones also needs to be better in the pocket and more trusting that his protection will hold up. Being a bit more accurate wouldn't hurt matters either.
Landry Jones is still the quarterback who seemed to have a bright future at the end of 2009, but with Florida State coming to town, he won't have a very big margin of error. Jones is confident this week is already a better practice week than last.
And confident that will pay off for him and the offense on Saturday.
"Guys are starting to practice more with a purpose," said Jones. "We had a really good camp and all of that stuff, but once we got here (last) Monday, I felt that some people might have slowed down. I'll point the finger at myself (as well). I got into a lull last week on not going through my reads the way that I should have. But we have to put that behind us, and when we came out for practice, the attitude had definitely changed."