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September 24, 2010Landry Jones isn't the only Oklahoma quarterback who has experienced road woes early in his Sooner career. One look at Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford's road record in his first year as a starter, and you can see that even greatness can struggle away from home.
Bradford's first true road test came in 2007 against Colorado. It was an ugly game against a mediocre opponent in Colorado. Bradford threw more interceptions (2) than touchdowns (1) and he completed just eight passes the entire game, throwing for just 112 yards all told.
The Sooners were upset 27-24 that day in Boulder. Colorado finished their 2007 season with a 6-7 record. The Sooners regrouped from that loss and went on to beat Texas and win a Big 12 Championship that year, defeating the top-ranked Missouri Tigers 38-17 at the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas.
It was a lesson for Bradford and a lesson for Oklahoma's program. It also helped that team develop into a stronger road team the next season when they went to Washington early in the 2008 season and blasted the Huskies 55-14.
Fast forward to 2010 as Jones and the Oklahoma offense face a similar situation as they prepare for their first road test against Cincinnati.
Even though the Bearcats will enter the contest with a 1-2 record after losses to Fresno State and North Carolina State, the same questions that hampered that 2008 team under Bradford are now carried by Jones.
Jones had his fair share of road woes in 2009. How does he overcome those road demons as Bradford did in 2008? According to Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops, he'll need help from his supporting cast.
When Oklahoma and Bradford went into Washington and dominated the Huskies away from home, Bradford completed 18-of-21 passes for 304 yards and five touchdowns.
But Bradford had plenty of help that day as Jermaine Gresham tallied three catches for 99 yards and two touchdowns. Demarco Murray and Chris Brown both rushed for over 100 yards on the day.
"I'm very aware," said Stoops this week when reminded of the big plays made by the players surrounding Bradford in that romp over Washington. "Half the offensive line is in the NFL.
"Everybody wants to talk about (Landry), but it's running backs, receivers catching the ball, protecting him, it all goes together."
Two players can most help Landry Jones overcome the road struggles in 2010. Wide receiver Ryan Broyles and running back Murray might not be team captains, but those are the two players who can take the most pressure off of Jones when the Sooners take on Cincinnati Saturday night.
"The way they've been playing and competing, they definitely set a great example of leadership and toughness," said Stoops.
Broyles and Murray can be the catalysts for change on the road in 2010. But as Stoops said, Bradford's offensive line gave him the opportunity to make plays with his arm.
In 2009, Oklahoma continually put Jones in tough situations on the road with penalties or breakdowns. The lack of a running game put too much pressure on the redshirt freshmen quarterback. In 2010, the offensive line, and their execution, will be a key component in allowing Jones to flourish.
"You get out there and the crowd starts yelling and do you lose your edge?" asked offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson earlier this week. "Or do you feed off the energy of the opposing crowd to have the energy that we have at home. Can we have that kind of energy on the road?
"We're talking about it, addressing it. It was an issue for last year's team but this is this year's team. It's a different team. It's a different way of attacking right now. We have some tremendous challenges and opportunities to go play well on the road. And great teams do that. And If we're going to be a good team we've got to embrace this opportunity of playing well on the road."
For Jones part in all of this, he's trying to be diplomatic. He's saying all the right things from a coach-speak perspective.
"I'm not out there to make plays," said Jones. "I'm out there to make reads and get the playmakers the ball. I don't have to do anything extra."
But that's a little too simplistic of a philosophy. That's Jones speaking how he is taught to speak. Jones does care how he plays. He wants to be a playmaker for the offense. Why else would he have been pressing in the opener against Utah State when he completed just 17-of-36 passes for 217 yards and two interceptions?
The fact of the matter is this: If the offensive line protects, if Murray is able to pick up yards on the ground and Broyles is able to pick up yards after the catch, Jones still has to pick up the slack.
That's exactly what Bradford did in 2008 when he only had three incompletions the entire game against Washington. He had a great supporting cast, but he was great too.
That's something the players on this Oklahoma team need to see from Jones if this group truly is a national championship contender.
"It's a big thing," said Broyles when asked if the offense needed to see a steady performance from their starting quarterback on the road. "We have faith in Landry and it's everyone's first game away. It will feel a little bit different and it just depends on who can settle in the fastest and we'll play from there."
If Jones settles in and plays the way he's capable, the rest of the offense will follow.
Broyles and Murray are the players the rest of the team looks to in order to find that rhythm and settle in. But Jones is the only team captain on the offense.
Against Cincinnati, they don't care how hard Jones is working out in the weight room. They don't care how much he has command of the offense in practice. To borrow a recent analogy from OU's military appreciation day last weekend, this will be a situation where bullets are flying, and players are looking for their foxholes.
Landry Jones can't be the lieutenant in the background. He's going to have to lead the charge on the battlefield. If he can do that, this team will finally begin to follow their new leader and they can finally start building a new identity on the road.
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