Oklahoma Sooners vs. Texas Longhorns: Can Landry Jones Live Up to the Hype?
The Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns face off this Saturday in what has come to be known as the best rivalry in college football, the Red River Rivalry. The most recent era in this 100-plus yearlong border war started when Bob Stoops took over the reigns at Oklahoma in 1999, one year after Mack Brown did the same at Texas.
Since 1999, Stoops has the slight edge at 7-5.
There are several storylines leading into this year's installment:
Can Texas find its identity with an entire new coaching staff under Mack Brown following its 5-7 season? Who will fill the shoes of Oklahoma running back legend Demarco Murray?
Since those answers have been checked off, for the most part, I'll create a new headline.
Is Landry Jones as good as he has been hyped? Is he a true OU legend in the making, or is he simply a stat monster? Josh Heupel or Nate Hybl?
Naturally, the first place to look to judge a quarterback is the stat sheet.
Upon a quick glance at the normal quarterback stats, your first first impression is probably "Wow." Mine was, too. His 2010 national ranks in completions (1), passing yards (1) and touchdowns (2) jump off the page immediately. He is off to a similar sizzling start this year as well.
He's made his mark on the OU record books, already claiming the top spot in attempts, completions and yards. Fifteen more touchdowns and we'll see him at the top of that list as well.
Argument settled, right?
Wrong. I like to be a little more critical of my Sooners and tend to hold a different (read: more realistic) opinion on Landry Jones than most. To make a long story short, the jury is still out on Landry for me.
Now, to make a long story longer...
If you take into account a few other stats, you begin to see the true story. In 2010, Landry led the NCAA in passing attempts with a whopping 617 throws. He currently sits at fourth, having played one less game than most other QBs.
He's not a "system" quarterback in the traditional sense. Oklahoma's offense is far more balanced than that of the Leech-era air-raid offense at Texas Tech or the June Jones Express during his years at Hawaii. So what gives?
Last season, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson's up-tempo, no-huddle offense led the nation in plays per game at 90, leading the second-ranked team (Texas Tech) by a full 7 percent. I lost track of how many times I heard Brent Musburger exclaim, "Here they go! It's the fastest show on turf!"
By running more plays per game than anyone in the country, Landry has more chances to throw passes, complete completions and stack stats up to the ceiling.
Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell took over for Kevin Wilson, who left for the Indiana job, and picked up right where he left off.
Their first game? The Fiesta Bowl against UConn.
The result? 98 plays, 48 points and 524 yards of offense.
This year, the shot-callers are up to it again, with 83 plays per game, ranking fifth nationally.
Landry's good-but-not-great 65.6 percent completion percentage was good enough for 17th in the country last season (4th in Big 12), but it was earned in an offense that hardly ever asked him to throw down field.
Sooner fans should remember the hypnotizing effect from watching swing pass after swing pass last season, effectively running up the score on his completion rate. His 66th ranked yards per completion (11.6) are a testament to the dink-and-dunk offense Landry fed on last year.
Given the development of his receiving corp, the offense has been a little more vertical this season. Landry's 2011 yards per completion is up to 12.6, ranking 41st nationally.
OK, OK, you get the point. Much of Landry's hype comes from his ridiculous stat line, and his statistical accumulation has a lot to do with the offense he runs.
But, does he rely solely on the "system" or is he actually an elite college quarterback? Sure, he gets to make more throws than anyone else, but he still has to throw the ball on target, right?
What separates a stat machine from an NFL first-rounder? Is he Graham Herrell or Mathew Stafford?
Decision making is the true test of an elite quarterback. Does he make a lot of bad throws? How is he on third down? Is he poised in the pocket even when he knows he is about to get rocked? Is he cool under pressure?
For this subjective metric, things don't look pretty for Landry. With more than 20 games of eligibility remaining, Landry's 31 career interceptions (in 31 games) rank him twelfth on the all-time Big 12 leaderboard. He needs only 15 more to take the top spot.
Yes, more passing attempts also means more interceptions, but his 1:1 ratio of interceptions thrown to games played is far from desirable. Ask Bob Stoops how he feels about having to plan for, on average, Landry to throw one interception every game. Maybe snag his heart pills while you're at it.
Third down, another crucial judgement point for quarterbacks, isn't Landry's specialty, either.
Last season, he led the team to a 44.5 percent third-down completion rate, good for 32nd in the national. Andrew Luck, Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton and Kellen Moore all ranked in the top 10, well above the 50 percent benchmark.
This year, the team is up only one percent. Who's near the top of the list in 2011? Russell Wilson and Brandon Weeden.
I am listing the names of other top signal-callers for a reason. They are in the elite class that Landry has been thrust into by both the media and local expectations. It is these players that Landry will be judged against.
Landry is a step behind this list of Heisman favorites in most aspects. So far.
Alright, I'll get off the kid's back.
Landry still has plenty of opportunities to build his brand. There are nine games left of this season, and if he decides to return for his senior year (a good idea), there are 13 to 14 more games waiting for him.
As a Sooner, you are judged on how you play against Texas, how many conference titles you win and how you do in your bowl games.
Landry is 1-1 against Texas.
In 2009, he filled in for Sam Bradford after he walked off the field for the last time as a Sooner clutching his shoulder. The terrified freshman ran for his life while throwing two interceptions as the team lost an ugly 16-13 battle.
His performance in 2010 was better, but it was running back DeMarco Murray that carried the team to victory.
Landry's 9.8 yards per completion, 61.5 percent completion rate and bone-headed fourth-quarter fumble deep in OU territory left much to be desired.
Still, the Sooners won and that is all that matters. Landry did lead the team to a Big 12 crown and an impressive Fiesta Bowl victory last season, so he has that going for him, too.
Saturday's grudge match against Texas (and looming in-state showdown in Stillwater) will do much more for Landry's legacy than another 4,000-yard season. A good performance in a convincing win against Texas, a conference title and a national championship will erase any and all doubts from myself and the rest of his critics.
Anything less will leave lingering doubts after the season, which is not good when Drew Allen and Blake Bell are nipping at your heels for the starting spot.
It's time for Landry to step up and grab his career by the throat or risk fading away and being forgotten in the short memories of Sooner Nation.
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