Make-or-break moments define Jones

Landry Jones isn't sure exactly when he took the step from solid signal-caller to elite quarterback.

But his Oklahoma teammates and coaches have a good idea, tracing it back to the second half at Texas A&M last season.

Down 19-0, the Sooners were on the verge of being routed. Instead, Jones -- almost single-handedly -- brought OU to within a field goal of taking the lead.

The Aggies ultimately held on for the win. But it was a significant steppingstone in Jones' career. And the turning point in OU's season.

"He played with more confidence, was more assured of himself," said offensive coordinator and quarter-backs coach Josh Heupel. "It provided a springboard to him playing at that level the rest of the season."

What a springboard.

From the third quarter in College Station to the final quarter in the Fiesta Bowl, Jones completed 64 percent of his passes, threw 17 touchdowns and tossed only six picks while quarterbacking the Sooners to five straight wins, including a seventh Big 12 championship.

"He had some really big games down the last stretch," coach Bob Stoops said. "When you look at on the road at Oklahoma State, and you look at the Big 12 championship game against a great defense in Ne-braska and the way he played, and into the Fiesta Bowl he really played great.

"He was a major factor in us winning those games."

But Jones first got it rolling in College Station.

Two weeks before, OU's offense went stagnant in a road loss against Missouri. Jones failed to complete a pass through the entire fourth quarter.

Back on the road at Kyle Field, the offense went stagnant again. In the first half, the Sooners managed to get into field goal range just once.

"I remember going into the locker room at halftime that game, and Landry getting the offense together saying, 'Let's go,' " backup quarterback Blake Bell recalled. "When Landry starts yelling, it's pretty serious.

"The second half, I think he said to heck with it, and just came out firing."

The offense never really clicked, failing to punch in the ball on three separate Aggies goal-line stands. But Jones found his groove, quarterbacking the Sooners into field goal range on seven of eight second-half drives.

"You play this position long enough, you're going to have a bad throw, a bad quarter, a bad half," Heupel said. "How he bounced back from that first half on the road was big.

"The protection wasn't great all the time, he wasn't always in the best situation. … But he had some self-confidence to let it rip and keep playing. And he made some terrific plays. He made plays."

Jones never stopped making plays, either.

He was almost flawless in wins over Texas Tech and Baylor.

Then late in the fourth quarter at OSU, with the Big 12 South Division at stake, Jones tossed an 86-yard touchdown pass to Cam Kenney, then a 76-yarder to James Hanna 29 seconds later to stave off the Cowboys.

"I just had a different mindset," Jones said. "I threw three picks that first half, but kept playing, kept play-ing. All that matters is how you finish and what the score is at the end of the game."

Jones carried that over, refusing to panic even after OU fell behind 17-0 to Nebraska in the Big 12 cham-pionship. Facing perhaps the nation's top secondary, Jones placed pass after pass on target after a bumpy first quarter and rallied the Sooners to a 23-20 victory.

"It's been a long time since I can remember us being down 17-0 and coming back to win a football game," Heupel said. "When your quarterback handles adversity that way … your football team does, too."

Jake Trotter covers University of Oklahoma football for SoonerNation.

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