For one of the most prolific quarterbacks in FBS and Oklahoma football history, it seems only fitting that redshirt senior signal-caller Landry Jones’ college career will end in the same venue where it all began—Cowboys Stadium.
Jones never expected to play on Sept. 5, 2009, against then-No. 20 Brigham Young University in Oklahoma’s season opener. Why would he have?
OU entered the season fresh off a 24-14 national championship game defeat at the hands of Tim Tebow and the Florida Gators with Heisman-winning quarterback Sam Bradford returning for his senior year. The No. 3 Sooners were a trendy pick to get back to the championship game and, this time around, hoist the crystal ball.
Instead, with one jarring hit Oklahoma’s championship aspirations were derailed and a new Sooner legacy began. As the closing first-half seconds waned in what was the first college football game ever played at the newly-built Jerry World, Bradford was crushed on a BYU blitz, his pass attempt fell incomplete and the star quarterback was done for the day with after a severe shoulder sprain in the AC joint of his throwing shoulder.
Meanwhile, on the Oklahoma sidelines a green-at-the-gills redshirt freshman quarterback named Landry Jones was charged with protecting a 10-7 halftime lead and resuscitating what had been an anemic offensive showing up to that point.
Though his fellow players and coaches marveled at the poise Jones displayed, in reflecting back upon that day the Artesia, N.M., native admittedly felt the proverbial butterflies.
“I remember all of it. You would definitely remember your first start and the first time you got to play,” Jones said. “I was really nervous. I mean, I was confident to go in there and play the way I knew I could play, but there’s still nerves that you go through for your first college football game. All those sorts of things.”
Jones finished the evening 6-of-12 passing for 51 yards with zero touchdowns and interceptions as the Sooners were narrowly upset, 14-13.
Rewriting the record books
After a trio of starts following the BYU loss, Bradford returned for games against Baylor and Texas. However, early in the first quarter UT cornerback Aaron Williams came charging in unblocked, jerked Bradford down from behind and killed what was left of Bradford’s OU career.
In turn, the Jones era was officially underway. Similar to the BYU outing, Jones could not quite lead Oklahoma to a victory, falling to the Longhorns 16-13 in a game he threw two late interceptions.
Still, Jones grew from the pair of defeats.
“I played my hardest and unfortunately we didn’t come out on top, but I learned a lot of things through that game,” Jones said of the BYU setback.
What followed would redefine what epitomized greatness in terms of OU and FBS quarterback play. The 6-foot-4, 218-pound senior sits atop the career Big 12 passing yardage rankings with his 16,368 career passing yards.
That total also checks in at No. 3 all-time nationally behind Houston’s Case Keenum (19,217) and Hawaii’s Timmy Chang (17,072). In addition, Jones’ 122 career passing touchdowns rank him fifth all-time in FBS history and second in Big 12 history behind Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell (134 touchdowns).
The senior has thrown for 300 yards or more in 27-of-49 career starts, for 400 yards or more in 12-of-49 career starts and for 500 yards or more on three different occasions—twice in the final three games against West Virginia and Oklahoma State.
Shoot, Jones eclipsed his own OU single-game passing yardage record at WVU this season with his 554-yard passing performance in the Sooners’ 50-49 thrilling victory.
Put another way, the senior has failed to pass for at least 250 yards or more in just 9-of-49 starts. In games where Jones started and threw for 250 yards or less, OU is 7-2—the only losses were on the road at Miami and Nebraska in Jones’ freshman season.
Earlier this year, Jones passed Steve Davis (32 wins) to become the all-time winningest quarterback in OU history. Currently, Jones has collected 39 wins.
Still hated by some
Despite all the personal accolades and a 39-10 record as a starter, in many Sooner camps Jones is viewed as an underachiever. It goes without saying, but at Oklahoma players and eras are defined by national championships or Heisman trophies—especially quarterbacks.
Unlike previous Stoops gunslingers Josh Heupel, Jason White and Sam Bradford, Jones will never win a Heisman or have his chance to play for the crystal ball.
Instead of celebrating the fact that Jones is 3-0 in bowl games, ranks 13th all-time in OU’s quarterback winning percentage annals (a spot that—win or lose versus Texas A&M—Jones will rank ahead of Bradford in) and has guided Oklahoma to a pair of Big 12 championships, Jones is often viewed as Mr. Hyde versus Dr. Jekyll.
Critics point to the rash of turnovers suffered in de-facto Big 12 championship games the past two seasons versus Oklahoma State and Kansas State. Memories of a football fumbling out of Jones’ grasp and into a defender’s pocket, or of an errant intercepted pass flood the storage systems.
Often lost in Jones’ evaluation process is the 76-yard touchdown strike to James Hanna in Stillwater that sealed up a Bedlam victory and forged a three-way tie in the Big 12 South. Forgotten is the subsequent rally and 23-20 victory against Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game after trailing early 17-0.
Or the sweep of Florida State in the home-and-home in 2010 and 2011. Or Jones’ spotless 3-0 mark in starts versus rival Texas. Or Jones leading OU on respective game-winning and game-tying touchdown drives against WVU and Oklahoma State to keep OU alive for its eighth Big 12 title in two of this season’s final weeks.
Jones’ legacy is a touchy subject. He’s felt the criticism over his career at OU. Perhaps that’s just the beauty of following in the footsteps of Bradford. Asked about what the Texas A&M game will mean for his Oklahoma legacy, Jones deferred.
“It’s just another big bowl game that we get to go to, another good team, a team ranked in front of us,” Jones said. “For me and my legacy here or whatever you want to call it, I don’t know. It’s just another game that I get to go out and prove myself and hopefully play to the best of my abilities.”
The final chapter
Despite Jones downplaying what the Texas A&M game will mean to his OU legacy, the fact of the matter is simple: it means everything.
Jones said that his legacy played little factor in his decision to come back for his senior year—keep in mind, many draft experts pegged Jones as a potential first-round pick a year ago, and now some of the same experts have him ranked as a middle-round selection—but one has to wonder if that’s truly the case.
He did add that he hoped he left a bigger legacy off the field by being “a guy that always pushed his teammates toward Christ.” One must applaud Jones for his faith, but, ultimately, his legacy from fans will be determined through wins and losses.
So, it seems only right that his final win or loss would be in the same venue as his first. Call it a chance at final redemption if you will.
With a win over the No. 9 Aggies and Heisman-winning freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, Jones can deliver a final “shove-it” to his career-long doubters. In turn, out-dueling “Johnny Football” at the Cotton Bowl would serve notice that, though he never achieved the status of Heisman trophy recipient, he should have been in the conversation and might propel Jones back up draft boards.
Most importantly, though, it offers a chance for Jones to cement—or to some, alter—his legacy as one of the all-time great OU quarterbacks.
“Kind of interesting to see how I’ve come kind of full circle here,” said Jones of completing his Oklahoma career where it began.
All that’s left to be determined is whether one last great performance at the Cotton Bowl will help Jones be remembered as he should—Dr. Jekyll and not Mr. Hyde.