Jones, OU look to continue in-state dominance

Oklahoma entered the 2011 season as the nation's preseason No. 1 team, a squad many felt would be undefeated headed into the season-concluding Bedlam game against in-state rival Oklahoma State.

Only a road test against Florida State in mid-September was supposed to truly test the Sooners.

But Bob Stoops' squad was tripped up when everyone least expected it -- at home against a Texas Tech team that ultimately would fail to become bowl eligible. A loss at Baylor followed a few weeks later.

So entering Saturday's game against the Cowboys, OU seems to have lost a lot of its luster. And a lot of its key players.

Kenny StillsICONKenny Stills will have to continue to play well with Ryan Broyles out.

The Sooners have seen notable playmakers on offense drop out of the lineup -- leading receiver Ryan Broyles to a torn ACL; leading rusher Dominique Whaley to a fractured ankle; second-leading receiver Jaz Reynolds to a suspension and a shoulder injury. Reynolds, however, is due back this week.

In the team's 26-6 win over Iowa State in tough playing conditions last weekend, the Sooners struggled to connect on big plays, relying on two 40-yard reverses by receiver Trey Franks and a defense that forced four first-half turnovers. The explosive plays? They just weren't there. Credit Paul Rhoads, the Cyclones head coach and one of the brightest defensive minds in the country. But also realize that this isn't the same preseason No. 1 Sooners squad.

Which makes Saturday's game against the Pokes a Landry Jones game if the Sooners have any designs on claiming the Big 12 championship, a ninth straight win over their in-state rivals and a berth to the Fiesta Bowl once again.

Jones suffered through a rough first quarter against Iowa State, but he found his comfort zone in the second. He was able to connect with Dejuan Miller and Kenny Stills throughout the night, as the pair combined for 156 yards on 12 catches, and the Sooners erased an early 6-3 deficit to score 20 unanswered before halftime. And while he completed only 22 of 43 passes for 256 yards with two interceptions, Jones held the offense together when it so easily could have come apart at the seams.

While 6-6, 245-pound freshman backup quarterback Blake Bell, who has scored nine touchdowns in the last four games after being installed in short-yardage packages termed the "BellDozer" formation, and running backs Roy Finch and freshman Brandon Williams will need to provide balance to this offense, it will be up to Jones to carry the load in what could be his last showdown against the Pokes. The junior could declare for the NFL Draft after this season.

With OSU signal-caller Brandon Weeden looking to atone for his three-interception effort against the Cyclones two weeks ago and the Pokes hoping to still sneak their way into the BCS national championship game, expect Mike Gundy's squad to be clicking on all cylinders this week. Especially through the air with Weeden, who was garnering serious Heisman consideration before the loss to the Cyclones. And especially against an OU secondary that has struggled to defend the pass as of late.

With the game being in Stillwater, Jones has his plate full. But this is also the same quarterback who led the Sooners on two late fourth-quarter touchdowns last season to beat the Cowboys on the very same field.

While national championship aspirations have gone out the window, head coach Bob Stoops knows that this season could still be considered a success with a win.

“How could it not be?” Stoops said at his weekly news conference. “Is it the ultimate? No, and that’s understandable. But it’s still a great year when you’re a champion. In my mind, anytime you win a championship, it’s a great season.”

If Jones is on his game against the Pokes, another Big 12 title could be coming to Norman.

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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