TEMPE, Ariz. — Landry Jones had a tough night at the office.
First, an Iowa defender attempted to take off his head. Then, his passes kept sailing a bit high and his receivers kept coming up gimpy. And finally, his backup was named the Insight Bowl's offensive most valuable player.
All was not bad, of course. The Sooners did beat the Hawkeyes 31-14.
But if this was Jones' last game in the crimson and cream, it wasn't exactly a great night.
Truth be told, it was the kind of night that has some Sooner fans hoping that Jones leaves school early for the NFL. Yes, there are segments of the Sooner Nation who prefer he go ahead and leave. Let Blake Bell or Drew Allen or whomever take over. Move on to the next guy.
Everyone's entitled to their opinions, but don't kid yourselves. The Sooners won't be nearly as good next season without Jones as it will be with him.
Listen, I'll be the first to say that I'm not entirely sure I understand what all of these NFL draftniks see in Jones. Most believe he is among the five best quarterbacks eligible for this year's draft. I'm not sure I'd put him in that upper echelon.
If Jones was that good, would the Sooners put in Bell every time they got into a short-yardage situation?
There's no doubt what the reserve quarterback has done out of the Belldozer has made life after Jones seem bearable, if not desirable. Seems like every time Bell touches the ball, good things happen.
He had 10 carries Friday night, gaining 51 yards and scoring three touchdowns.
Jones had a nice night, too — 16-of-25 for 161 yards, one touchdown and one interception — but it wasn't the monster night that seemed possible against the so-so Hawkeyes.
But if Jones comes back for his senior season, he'll likely be the best quarterback in college football. And he'll have a commodity that is invaluable — experience.
The Insight Bowl marked Jones' 37th career start, tying him with Cale Gundy for the most starts for a quarterback in OU history. Roll that one around in your head a minute — no other quarterback in Sooner history has ever started more games than Jones. Not Sam Bradford. Not Steve Davis. Not Jack Mildren.
That's heady company.
Sure, teams now play two or three more games a season than they used to, but nearly 40 career starts is a big number. That experience will serve Jones and the Sooners well next season.
And let's not forget that the guy is not the finished product. He even showed a little something different late in the first half when he took off on third and 6. He scrambled — believe it, Sooner fans — and picked up a first down.
"I was a little short (of the first-down marker) and knew I was going to have to take a hit," Jones said.
And he took a big one. As he started to slide down, he took an Iowa defender's helmet directly in the face mask. Jones head snapped back as he crashed to the turf.
A penalty was called, but the bigger concern was Jones' well-being. He got up. He walked off. He looked fine.
Still, you had to wonder if he was seeing straight, much less thinking that way.
He told teammates on the sideline that he thought he'd chipped a tooth when he got hit, maybe even lost it all together.
But the very next Sooner drive, Rocky was back in the game.
Jones has been a fighter this season. He has managed to keep the Sooners moving forward despite a crippling number of injuries. Dom Whaley and Ryan Broyles are the headliners, but there have been many others.
Lots of folks like to point at what Jones failed to do without those guys, but hey, what about what he did. He helped the Sooners win 10 games. End on a winning note. Salvage what could've become a complete disaster of a season.
Jones isn't perfect. Far from it. He misfired several times on Friday night, oftentimes high, sometimes badly.
But there is no doubt that if the Insight Bowl was his final college game, the Sooners will be worse off for it. They'll have to replace his talent. They'll have to make up for his experience.
Friday wasn't Jones' best night, but heading into next season, he is the Sooners' best option.