EL PASO, Texas — Bob Stoops leaps onto his soapbox to offer spirited rebuttals any time it's suggested his starting quarterback bears great responsibility for any Oklahoma offensive failing.
When a reporter at Big 12 media days prefaced a question by mentioning that Landry Jones had struggled late in 2011, when he didn't throw a touchdown pass for 151/2-straight quarters, Stoops jumped to Jones' defense.
“Everybody (said), ‘Landry struggled.' No, he didn't,” Stoops said. “The offense struggled. ... To me, it's more of an issue of the offense and the offense around him than it is him.”
If discussing the 2011 post-Ryan Broyles passing attack, the coach's points are debatable.
As for Saturday's underwhelming season opener — the No. 4-ranked Sooners beat traditional doormat UTEP 24-7, with the teams tied at halftime and separated early in the fourth quarter only by one of UTEP's three missed field goals — Stoops' points aren't up for any serious debate. Landry Jones was not the problem Saturday.
Not even close.
The senior spent many of OU's passing downs showing off his recently developed mobility while evading Miner defenders who were often unabated by an offensive line that clearly missed Ben Habern, Tyler Evans and their combined 59 career starts far more than anyone during fall camp knew — or was willing to admit.
A few times Saturday, though, the offensive line did protect Jones well; but on some of those plays, the receiver corps — itself comprised almost exclusively of new Sooners — struggled to get open.
Junior Kenny Stills, the one receiver with whom Jones has worked for more than eight months, was Mr. Reliable on Saturday in the slot. He grabbed six balls for 121 yards, which included a first-quarter, 68-yard touchdown reception.
And even Stills' day could've been better. On the Sooners' next drive after the touchdown, Jones and Stills hooked up for a 38-yard gain to UTEP's 4-yard line, but it was negated by a Dominique Whaley chop-block.
“We just weren't in sync,” Jones said. “It was one of those things where we would have flashes of greatness, but it wouldn't be all as a team. But we came out with a W and that's what we're shooting for.”
I'm not here to declare Landry Jones the greatest quarterback of all time, nor am I saying he was perfect Saturday. He misfired on some throws, a couple of which could've been intercepted.
But it's undeniable that Jones has significantly improved his game since 2011. The work he put in last spring with quarterback guru George Whitfield, Jr., was apparent.
Jones said he sought Whitfield's advice to improve, among other things, his ability to escape the pocket and throw on the run.
It's a good thing he did, too.
Based on the pressure he faced Saturday, Jones might need those skills if he's going to avoid his predecessor's fate.
In 2009, Sam Bradford, like Jones this year, returned to college instead of jumping to the NFL. And behind an inexperienced offensive line, Bradford took a couple big hits that caused injuries that prematurely ended his days in crimson and cream.
Of Jones' improved mobility, Stoops said: “I think it was obvious tonight. Getting out of some things and avoiding some things. Now ... hopefully he doesn't have to run as much.”