NORMAN — After all the preseason panic about a handful of various position groups, who could've fathomed that Oklahoma's four-year starter and supposed bedrock would be its most culpable player in a lackluster three-game start to the season?
Saturday night, the Sooners' 2012 national-title hopes were dashed by Kansas State on Owen Field, and it wasn't because of an inexperienced offensive line. It wasn't because of a batch of young receivers, nor was it because of the much-maligned secondary that struggled so much in losses last season.
It was because of Landry Jones, the senior quarterback who made poor throws and poor decisions from OU's first offensive snap Saturday night and never improved.
On that first play, Jones was well-protected by his offensive line, but got happy feet, rolled unnecessarily to his left and tossed a pass across the middle behind Kenny Stills, who had to stop to make the catch.
After driving down the field, OU faced a first-and-goal play from Kansas State's 9-yard line. Jones had Brannon Green with nothing but the end zone in front of him, but missed the junior tight end badly by throwing behind him, negating a sure touchdown.
Jones completed five of eight pass attempts on that first series, but five of those attempts were thrown behind the intended target, and two more were overthrown. The only throw of the drive that seemed to go as planned? A no-gain screen to fullback Trey Millard.
It was on Oklahoma's third offensive series when Jones' happy feet and questionable decision-making caused the game's first touchdown — but for the other team.
On third-and-13, stuck deep in OU's own territory, Jones took a snap and — with good pocket protection — rolled to his right and into Kansas State's pressure. He retreated toward the end zone, where linebacker Justin Tuggle caught him from behind and forced a fumble.
Jarell Childs was right there to scoop the ball up, fall into the end zone to give Kansas State a 7-0 lead.
Had Jones stayed calm and just stepped up into the pocket, he could've safely thrown the ball away and allowed the Sooners to punt.
But even after that and Blake Bell's inexplicable fumble on the KSU 1-yard line, OU still had wrestled the lead and all the momentum back from the Wildcats by the end of the third quarter.
But on a second-and-4, Jones faked a handoff and carelessly heaved a pass off his back foot, over Stills' head and right into the arms of Kansas State's Ty Zimmerman.
Seven plays later, KSU scored a go-ahead touchdown to take a lead it wouldn't surrender.
Jones owns most of Oklahoma's passing records. He's got incredible natural gifts, including his powerful arm, and he's shown signs of the improved mobility coaches raved about through fall camp.
And to his credit, Jones took full responsibility for Saturday's loss in his postgame news conference and vowed to improve.
But the gains he needs are fundamental ones; improvements you would expect a player would have already made over three-plus seasons as a starting quarterback.
Can anyone legitimately expect these errors to be corrected in time for OU to make a conference — or even, as Jones suggested Saturday — a national championship push this season, when they're the same mistakes he's made throughout his entire career?