<
>

Landry Jones' maturity on full display

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Landry Jones walked out of Doak Campbell Stadium looking no taller than his listed 6-foot-4.

But make no mistake, he had grown on an intense Saturday night in the South.

In a cauldron of noise and pressure, the Oklahoma quarterback faced his demons and stuck a burning spear in them. A guy who has struggled at times on the road and had some ugly fourth quarters in his career found himself in a pickle -- on the road, and in the fourth quarter.

Florida State had tied the game with 9½ minutes left. Doak was deafening. Doubt was creeping into the minds of Sooners fans, who had seen this movie before. Florida State's long-awaited return to prominence seemed close enough for a record crowd of 84,392 to touch it.

Until Jones and his teammates snatched it away from the Seminoles in a steely display of poise, power and playmaking.

"They sense blood, the stadium's on you, they have the momentum," coach Bob Stoops said, "and we just seized it right back."

Oklahoma was 83 yards from paydirt when its offense took the field, score knotted at 13. All Jones did was complete 5 of 6 passes for 73 yards, the last 37 on a touchdown throw to Kenny Stills. After intercepting the Seminoles, Oklahoma then muscled up and pounded out seven straight runs to set up the clinching field goal for a 23-13 victory.

Stoops called it his team's best fourth quarter from a character standpoint since 2000. Not coincidentally, the Sooners won the national title that year. This victory keeps the nation's No. 1 team in the pole position to play for its first championship since then.

"We're a tough team," Jones said. "We've grown a lot since last year."

Last year, Jones failed to complete a single pass in the fourth quarter of a come-from-ahead loss at Missouri. Last year, Oklahoma couldn't score an offensive point in the fourth in a two-touchdown loss at Texas A&M.

This year, the Sooners passed their first major test in a similarly stressful situation. Until their final two drives, they hadn't taken a single second-half snap in Florida State territory. Then they ran 10 straight plays on that side of the 50 to put the game away.

"Smart enough, calm enough, poised enough," was offensive coordinator Josh Heupel's description of Jones in crunch time.

His final two throws of the game were his best. On a third-and-12 at the Oklahoma 41, game tied, he fired a 22-yard strike to Ryan Broyles. Then on the next play, he went deep to Stills, who made an athletic play on a slightly underthrown ball over beaten cornerback Greg Reid.

Jones' numbers for the game were fairly pedestrian by his standards: 18-of-27 for 199 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. But this was a quality-over-quantity performance against a significantly improved Florida State defense. At winning time, he and the Sooners came through.

"That's what No. 1 teams do," Jones said.

It's also what Heisman Trophy candidates do, and frankly, Jones needed a moment like this to improve his credentials for that award.

I'm not ready to put him atop my Heisman watch yet. And I don't believe Oklahoma is the best team in the land -- not the way LSU has looked so far this season. But Jones proved something Saturday night, and so did his teammates.

While many other high-caliber teams duck nonconference games like this, the Sooners found out against a quality opponent that they have championship mettle.

The Oklahoma defense was savage against the Seminoles. It knocked starting quarterback EJ Manuel out of the game in the third quarter with a bruised shoulder, and repeatedly tattooed gritty backup Clint Trickett. A Florida State offense that came into this game averaging 510 yards per game in two tuneup victories was held to less than half that total. Manuel ran for 28 yards on the Noles' seventh offensive snap, then the team finished with 27 total rushing yards.

Offensively, Oklahoma flashed 80 yards in 15 plays to open the game and then struggled much of the night. The Sooners twice had first-and-goal possessions in the second quarter but could not get into the end zone. But their dormant ground game was re-energized late, when Dominique Whaley ran it seven straight times for 32 clock-eating yards.

"We had to rally and get together and tell each other, 'This is the time to shine and to play Oklahoma football,'" center Ben Habern said. "We have a lot more maturity this year."

When the Rally in Tally ended with that final 10-point flurry, Florida State fans filed out in docile fashion. The most popular T-shirt among the garnet-and-gold faithful this weekend read, "This is our time."

Not quite, as it turned out. The Seminoles are getting closer, but they're not there yet.

Oklahoma, on the other hand, might be right on time. A program riding a 37-game winning streak in Norman should be solidly favored in its next six games (home against Missouri and Ball State, Texas in Dallas, at Kansas, home against Texas Tech, at Kansas State). After that comes a date in Norman with Texas A&M on Nov. 5, and a season-ending trip to Stillwater to play rival Oklahoma State on Dec. 3.

There's a lot of football left to be played. But nobody has a better road victory so far this season than the Sooners -- thanks in large part to the growth of their quarterback in crunch time.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.