QB Jones gives OU edge vs. Texas

NORMAN, Okla. -- Coach Bob Stoops claims he has never lost sleep at night going to the Cotton Bowl with a rookie quarterback. But Oklahoma fans can sleep easy this week knowing the team with the more experienced quarterback usually wins in the Red River Rivalry.

In fact, since 1988, quarterbacks with OU-Texas starting experience are 8-2-1 against quarterbacks making their first start in the series.

The veteran quarterback "executes maybe a little bit better," Stoops said. "He's been there, done that, made the throws when he's had to, realizes the atmosphere he's going to get and can anticipate it."

In junior Landry Jones, Stoops has a quarterback who has been there and done that -- a big advantage for the Sooners, considering that Texas' Case McCoy and David Ash, who share QB duties, are about to get their first taste of Red River pressure.

"I'm very, very pleased that Landry is behind us," OU center Gabe Ikard said. "He has the big-game experience. He'll be calm and composed."

Jones did his best to remain calm and composed in his OU-Texas debut in 2009, but he admitted this week he "was definitely nervous that first one." In that game, Sam Bradford aggravated the shoulder injury he sustained in the Sooners' opener, which forced Jones into the fire on the second play of OU's second possession.

"All week long, [quarterbacks] coach [Josh] Heupel had been telling me, 'If he takes a big shot, he could go down,'" Jones recalled. "So I was prepared for it when he went down. It wasn't that surprising; his shoulder was still really bothering him. He was still a little iffy going into the game. So I was ready."

Facing a Texas defense that finished the season ranked third in the country, Jones had his moments, throwing for 250 yards and a 35-yard touchdown to Ryan Broyles that tied the score late in the third quarter. But in the fourth, Jones' inexperience surfaced, and Texas intercepted him twice to hold on for the 16-13 win.

"That was a really difficult situation, but he came in and let it rip and played on edge. The stage was never too big for him," said Heupel, OU's co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, who also lost in his first Red River appearance as the Sooners' quarterback in 1999. "There were things that didn't go right for him, but he matured and got better from it, and that's why he's where he is today."

Jones has a come a long way since that first OU-Texas game. On Saturday, he'll be making his 28th career start, and that career includes last season's 28-20 victory over the Longhorns. In that game, Jones was far more composed, despite a bizarre fumble in the fourth quarter that rolled out of bounds. He completed 24 of 39 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns (and no interceptions).

"After that first one, you know how to handle your emotions a little better when you're walking out there on the field about to take your first snap," Jones said. "You're not as nervous and the game isn't bigger than life."

Since then, Jones has quarterbacked the Sooners to two road wins over top-10 opponents, as well as a Big 12 championship and BCS bowl victory. Three weeks ago in Tallahassee, he was cooler than ever, even after Florida State tied the game with a fluky touchdown bomb in the fourth quarter, which ignited the overflow crowd. On the ensuing drive, Jones led OU right back, converting a third-and-12 before lofting a 37-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills to give the Sooners the lead for good.

"I've played ball around this place for a while now," Jones said. "You draw on those experiences you've been through, you remember those situations you've been in ... and it all clicks in the game."

Jones has played a lot of ball now. And that has the coach north of the river sleeping easy this week.

Jake Trotter covers University of Oklahoma football for SoonerNation. He can be reached at trotterjake@gmail.com. and look for answers every Friday.

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