TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Measured statistically, with nothing more than a casual glance at the box score, this was your typical Landry Jones road performance. If you pulled it up on your smartphone, you would have thought Oklahoma got a coveted signature road win despite Jones, not in part because of him.
Numbers are funny that way, though. They're so stark, failing to paint the picture of the intricacies of a game such as the top-ranked Sooners' do-what's-necessary 23-13 victory Saturday night at No. 5 Florida State.
Jones' line – 18 for 27 for 199 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions – says he was average, at best. But that's like reading the Cliffs Notes for Macbeth and saying you came to understand the complex beauty of Shakespeare's prose.
Jones did not win the Heisman on Saturday. Not by any means. But he did not lose it, either. In fact, he had one of those “moments” pundits are always squawking about as resume builders.
The situation: Third-and-12. Own 40-yard line. Seven minutes, 20 seconds to go. Opponent tied the game for the first time on the previous possession. Its crowd as loud as it had been, literally, in decades.
All that, and the junior reacted coolly, calmly. If quarterbacking doesn't work out, perhaps Jones could have a career in hostage negotiating.
He stood in with the FSU rush in his face and delivered a strike to Ryan Broyles on a post route, in the middle of the field. Sure looked like Jones' best throw of the day, and he said as much afterward.
When I picked apart the ever-so-slight flaws for Jones in the Tulsa game, I made the point that there are throws a big-time quarterback – like Jones is purported to be - absolutely has to make. Well, that was one of those throws. Jones was on target at the most important juncture in the game. Who knows what happens if that ball sails high or wide and Tress Way punts the ball back to an FSU team that had all the momentum in a 13-13 game? Maybe that just caused you to shiver. It was getting away. That throw got it back.
The play to Broyles went to the FSU 37-yard line, and then the Sooners rushed to the line to get off the snap. That's key to note, because OU really had been knocked out of its desired rhythm by Florida State's toughness and aggressiveness. Both defenses dictated play in the game, and that certainly came as a surprise to me – and, no doubt, a lot of people watching the game.
Bob Stoops said Jones made a good throw to Kenny Stills on the touchdown pass, only to backtrack seconds later and correct himself to say it was actually underthrown. Even Stoops couldn't put any sunshine PR spin on that ballooned toss. But, you know, Jones still put the ball up where Stills, about a half-foot taller than corner Greg Reid, could go up and make a catch.
There is the matter of the two turnovers, two more interceptions than the Sooners would ever want from Jones. Two more than Jones would want from Jones. We've got to talk about that.
The first was inexcusable. Flushed from the pocket, Jones had time to throw the ball away. Typically, he's overly cautious in that scenario. Most of the time, he gets rid of the ball at the first sign of pressure. In that case, though, he waited until the rush got to him.
A simultaneous hit with an awkward throw and the ball wobbled to an FSU linebacker.
The second pick was more forgivable, more of an arm punt than anything when taking a chance sort of made sense.
With FSU starting quarterback E.J. Manuel injured on the sideline, the Sooners wanted to take a shot deep. Jones noticed Stills was being double-covered down the right sideline, but he threw anyway. It was not the best idea, but he threw it up in the direction of the right guy to make that sort of a catch. And it's not as if it gave the opponent a short field, even if it did lead to a long FSU field goal.
Jones would like those throws back, I'm sure. But they did not get his team beat. He did a lot more good than harm against a Seminoles defense that was, as reported, markedly better than it was a year ago.
Florida State made a concerted effort to prevent two things from beating it: Ryan Broyles and bubble screens (including some to Broyles). It locked down on Broyles, holding him catchless from the first to second touchdown drives, a span of, oh, three quarters. And its defensive backs played physical near the line of scrimmage, limiting the number of screens.
Smart on Josh Heupel and OU's part, the Sooners took advantage of the Noles overplaying those screens in the game's critical moments. Jones pump-faked a screen on the touchdown throw to Stills, allowing Stills to gain distance between himself and Reid. Stats cannot tell you something like that.
They can tell you this: Now sitting at 8,490 yards, Jones moved past Sam Bradford on Saturday to become the school's all-time leading passer. A 16-yard slant pass to Stills late in the third quarter did it. It's interesting Jones set the record on a night that wound up being his second-worst passing day, statistically.
The only other time Jones was under 200 yards as a starter came in his first road start, in the one-point loss to Miami in 2009. Different Jones from that game in the Sunshine State to Saturday's, right?
You think Jones is making that third-and-12 throw back then? Maybe not in 2010, either. But 2011 Jones did.
The Sooners' quarterback has had much better games, no question. But an argument could be made that it was his best victory as quarterback, given the circumstances. More to come?