CNHI News Service
NORMAN — There’s an exhilaration quarterbacks feel when they throw a touchdown pass. It’s a rush that nothing replicates. Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones hasn’t been able to experience it many times this season.
Through five games, he’s thrown just nine touchdown passes. For a guy who averaged 2.325 per game over his first three seasons, it’s a very slow pace.
There’s a very simple reason for Jones’ slowing touchdown production: Blake Bell.
OU’s backup quarterback and the short-yardage package he’s led with bruising efficiency over the Sooners’ last 11 games, dating to the 2011 season, has virtually eliminated the short touchdown pass from OU’s playbook. All of Jones’ touchdown passes have been on plays of 10 yards or longer through the first five games.
Bell scored four more touchdowns in the 63-21 rout of Texas last Saturday, running his season total up to seven this season.
It was a game where everything OU ran worked. Perhaps, Jones could have picked up a few more touchdown passes if given the chance.
However, Jones, who became the first OU quarterback to win 33 games as a starter and became the first player since Steve Davis in 1975 to quarterback the Sooners to three straight wins over the Longhorns, didn’t object.
“As a competitor I want to be there, and I want to throw touchdowns and be in the game when we score touchdowns and those sort of things,” he said. “That’s our short-yardage package and that’s what we’re going to use down there.”
Arguing with the success of OU’s short-yardage running game is a waste of breath. Its 29 red zone trips have resulted in 22 touchdowns this season. The 75 percent touchdown rate is an incredible turnaround from the last three seasons. OU hasn’t cracked 60 percent in the red zone touchdown category since it scored on 71 of 84 tries (84.5 percent) in 2008.
That Sam Bradford offense was — statistically — the best in college football history. Bradford didn’t run for very many of those. But that team also had a prolific tight end — Jermaine Gresham — that dominated in the red zone. The Sooners haven’t had a tight end anywhere near as productive as Gresham since.
The 6-foot-6, 260-pound Bell has made up for the short-yardage deficiencies. The fact OU still has a quarterback handling the ball is part of the goal-to-go success.
“We knew how big and strong he was when we recruited him, “ OU coach Bob Stoops said of Bell. “He was a good athlete in high school. Sure, we felt he’d be able to do this, to a degree. But we always recruit our quarterback first by how he’s able to throw the football. And then when you can do something with it, it gives you that little extra dimension.”
Jones’ acceptance that many of the 10th-ranked Sooners’ drives are going to be complete with him standing on the sideline makes him the personification of the internal leadership OU’s been trying to build.
“It’s just kind of taking care of business,” Jones said. “It’s just one of those things where you get it down there close. It’s the type of package we use in short-yardage and goal-line situations. For me, it’s just taking care of business and doing what our offense needs to do.”