EL PASO, Texas — Late last season, with Landry Jones and his receivers unable to connect for touchdowns, Blake Bell and his unstoppable power-running attack became Oklahoma's sole option for six points.
If the Sooners' 24-7, season-opening win at UTEP on Saturday is any indication, the Belldozer may have a new primary purpose for 2012: the conversion of third-down attempts.
Many of the problems in the Sooners' final, Ryan Broyles-less four-and-a-half 2011 games stemmed from Jones' inability to connect with Kenny Stills, who replaced Broyles in the slot and struggled there.
With Stills in the slot position Saturday, he and Jones often showed signs of potential.
With just over five minutes left in the first quarter and the fourth-ranked Sooners trailing 7-0, Jones showed mobility and vision drastically improved from last season, stepping to the right, looking downfield and finding Stills, who crept behind the UTEP secondary and caught a beautiful 68-yard touchdown pass.
“It was kinda broken,” Stills said of the play. “Landry got flushed out of the pocket; he's usually not the guy to throw from hash to hash, but he made that throw. He saw me wide open and we were able to capitalize on it.”
“We've been working our tails off to be on the same page, and I felt like we were today.”
Other, less experienced receivers, though, had trouble getting open. Freshman Trey Metoyer, who is thought of as a budding superstar, underwhelmed in his college debut. He didn't make a catch until the third quarter and finished with four receptions and 21 yards.
“I was kind of frustrated for a moment,” Metoyer admitted. “But, hey, as coach kept on talking, we're a team. We won. Whatever I gotta do ... to win, I'm down.”
Jones spent some of his offseason learning from renowned quarterback coach George Whitfield, Jr., with much of their work focused on the Oklahoma quarterback's mobility and his skills in transitioning from scrambling to throwing.
Judging from Saturday's game, it was time well spent. With UTEP defenders — part of a unit that ranked 104th in total defense last season — Jones wasn't given any time in the pocket. He was forced to shift, twist and run to avoid Miner pass rushers, and often he was unsuccessful. Jones was sacked three times Saturday without protection from an offensive line that lost two seniors — Ben Habern and Tyler Evans — earlier this month, and their 59 career starts along with them.