After a rough Cotton Bowl debut as a freshman, Landry Jones has torched Texas in the two years since (6 TDs, 0 INTs), but has struggled to maintain consistency over the course of a full season.
In Part 1 of my conversation with Oklahoma Sooners blogger Jordan Esco, we talked about Bob Stoops' theory of pliable justice, the return of Mike Stoops, and expectations for a defense that struggled at times a year ago. Today, the conversation continues with a pivot to the other side of the ball, where I ask Jordan about the Sooners' rapidly disintegrating offensive line, Landry Jones' inconsistency, and what his crystal ball is saying about OU's 2012 season.
Alright, Jordan -- let's flip the field and tackle the offense now. I won't make you cover the whole roster in one answer this time. Let's just start with the offensive line, which has gone from potential strength to question mark in a hurry as the injuries mount. Give us the latest on the situation.
Crimson & Cream Machine: To call the situation fluid at the moment would be a significant understatement. At the moment (7pm CST on Monday evening), Oklahoma is dealing with two career-ending injuries, a season-ending ACL injury, a true freshman who apparently lost his desire to play the game, a guy who just underwent a heart procedure, and, amazingly enough, a guy who is going to practice and then to chemotherapy treatment just hours later. It's an odd year.
Once of the believed to be biggest strengths on the entire team, the interior of the offensive line has now become a potential liability. Tackle was already a problem with respect to depth, so now obviously depth along the entire line is a problem. I'm confident in the starting five, even with after the losses. Gabe Ikard filled in at center last year for Ben Habern and was a natural. Adam Shead is an absolute beast at left guard. Bronson Irwin, at right guard, is a guy who probably should have already seen the field. Daryl Williams is someone who has been favorably compared to former Sooner Trent Williams and he will man the right tackle spot. At left tackle, is a guy (Lane Johnson) with arguably the most interesting back story of any player on the entire team. He's a guy that originally came to Oklahoma, from a JUCO, as a quarterback. Yes, you read that right. OU's starting left tackle initially came to Norman as a quarterback. He's seen time at tight end, defensive end, and now on the offensive line. Not your typical positional career path to say the least.
Beyond the starting five however, things could get a little sketchy. As of right now, based on my account, the Sooners don't have a single projected backup who have started a game. In fact, few if any even have that many snaps in an actual game. Right now, it would appear Oklahoma is going to have to hope beyond hope that they could be one of the rare teams how makes it through a season without an in-season injury along the offensive line. And I'm sure I don't have to tell you, when you enter into any season with that being a possible "best case scenario" things could go south. In a hurry.
The concern there has to be the potential domino effect on the offense as a whole. It looks like OU's going to have the receiver situation figured out, but if the line winds up a liability and the Sooners can't run the ball, that's going to be a big problem, right? Or do you think Landry Jones is capable of hauling an entire offense on his back, without a running game, and under constant pressure? What are expectations for Jones this year? Do OU fans trust him to be consistent enough to compete for a national title?
Crimson & Cream Machine: As you said, it's a major concern because it could alter literally everything Josh Heupel wants to do on offense. Adding to that concern is another area where I might take a little bit of an issue with how you presented things.
I'm not quite sure I am with you on the receiver situation being "figured out" as of yet. There is a significant amount of talent, on paper mind you, but to date (outside of Kenny Stills) it's exactly that. Strictly on paper. The addition of Justin Brown (transfer from Penn State) should help, JUCO transfer Lacoltan Bester qualifying could as well, but behind them it's pretty much just freshman (since we've already addressed the reinstated players). I know I don't have to tell Texas fans that relying on freshman can be a dicey proposition, but that is exactly where the Sooners find themselves heading into this season.
One obvious aspect of this offense that could take a lot of pressure off those wide receivers would be a consistent running game just as you suggest. The only problem with that theory is that Oklahoma has struggled to do exactly that for the last couple years and Heupel showed no desire for a power run game in his first year as offensive coordinator last season. I'm such a strong proponent of a power running game for this team and this season, that I even jeopardized my OU fan card by suggesting the Sooners could benefit quite a bit from copying the Texas offensive model. I'm just not sure anyone could convince me, given all of the potential question marks with not just this offense but the defense as well, that it wouldn't be the best possible strategy for this team.
I suspect at this point, you're probably tired of me rambling on and on so I'll keep this next answer short and to the point. Do I think Landry Jones is capable of hauling an entire offense on his back? No, I do not. There are three years of evidence that he hasn't been able to do it in the past, so unless something has drastically (and I mean drastically) changed I see no reason to change my opinion. That said, he shouldn't have to be asked to do that to begin with.
I could easily write a dissertation on that last part of your question, but I'll try and keep it a little shorter than that. I actually think the expectations for Jones and OU fans trust in him are very closely related. I think most of us are, for the most part, pretty happy with Landry but are really looking for some improvement in specific areas. He obviously needs to develop a relationship with more than just one wide receiver like many felt he had not done last season when they point to his decreased effectiveness following Ryan Broyles' injury.
Another thing a lot of us would like to see is improvement when he does face pressure not to panic and/or bail out. He has a tendency to forget any semblance of mechanics when under pressure, but you guys know all about that with Case McCoy (hell, he doesn't even need any pressure to do so). Seriously though, if he can improve on those things I think OU fans trust in him would increase significantly. A lot of teams would love to have the production Landry Jones has been responsible for over the last three years, but after seeing a lot of the same mistakes in that same time frame Sooner fans are going to want to see it on the field before they fully buy in.
That's consistent with what I hear from most OU fans that I talk to. We could go on and on, of course, and we'll surely rekindle this conversation as the big game approaches, but you've been more than gracious enough with your time already, so let's wrap this up with the big picture question everyone wants to know: what's your gut saying about the Sooners 2012 season? And most important of all, do you expect another win over Texas?
Crimson & Cream Machine: I'll probably catch heat for saying this here, but I'm not sure OU is the consensus Top 5 team they've been made out to be thus far. That said, I think there are a lot of teams out there with question marks (OU included), so when you're trying to put one ahead of another it's really almost more about personal preference than anything.
I wasn't a huge fan of how the schedule shook out for OU, with two bye weeks in the first month of the season and a tough, back-loaded stretch to close things out. But maybe the two early off weeks will give them some extra time to work in a number of the guys we've talked about here and if you can take Bob at his word (which I know you'd never dream of doing) he's said he doesn't like late-season bye weeks.
I'd love to be able to sit here and predict a perfect season and another MNC game, but even I'm not that big of a homer. It's not impossible mind you, a number of things would have to go in their favor of course, but I'm not ready to predict that all of those things happen as it stands today. If you want a record prediction, I'll go with 10-2 but I'm not going to say one of those two losses will be to Texas. Not because I think UT is incapable of winning that game (far from it in fact), but I believe the Horns have a number of questions themselves and because of that the Sooners will find a way to squeak out a third straight win.
Before we officially close this out, just wanted to add that I've thoroughly enjoyed myself and would welcome a chance to pick this back up again once the big game approaches. Of course I'd be remiss if I finished this with anything other than -- Boomer Sooner, Texas sucks!
I've thoroughly enjoyed this chat as well, so much so that I can say without hesitation: if I were going to ride shotgun in someone's cheat wagon, it would be yours, Jordan. And I mean that.
Hook 'em, and don't forget: it's 4:30 p.m., and OU still sucks.