By Oklahoma standards, 2011 was an off year. The Sooners tied for third in the Big 12, got crushed by Bedlam rival Oklahoma State in the regular-season finale and settled for a postseason trip to the Insight Bowl.
Everybody shared in the blame, coach Bob Stoops said. But quarterback Landry Jones a little less.
“Everybody said Landry struggled,” Stoops said. “No, he didn’t. The offense struggled … It was more of an issue of the offense around him than him.”
Dropped passes, wrong routes and other sins committed by the Sooners over the second half of last season doomed what started as a national championship run. Oklahoma, which spent most of the first month ranked No. 1, dropped what should have been a record-padding game against Texas Tech at midseason and changed the season’s tone.
That was then. This is another year as the Big 12 favorite for Oklahoma, and Jones is a big reason for the perception.
“We’ve made a lot of strides,” Jones said. “We’re moving in the right direction.”
Jones is coming off a year in which he averaged 343 passing yards, an effort that was somewhat overshadowed by the strong quarterback play in a league that included Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III of Baylor, first-round NFL Draft picks Brandon Weeden of Oklahoma State and Texas A&M’s Ryan Tannehill, and Kansas State’s versatile Collin Klein.
But Jones didn’t go unappreciated by Stoops, who bristled when asked where Jones needed improvement.
“I didn’t ask him to improve on anything,” Stoops said.
The Sooners’ wide receivers are a different story. Dropped passes killed Oklahoma drives late in the season, and the position remains in a state of flux after the program suspended three players after spring practice who figured to contribute. But returning is Kenny Stills, who caught 61 passes and eight touchdowns last season. Spring standout Trey Metoyer also drew Stoops’ praise.
Running the ball better will open the passing game and Oklahoma is hopeful for a full recovery from Dominique Whaley, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury against Kansas State.
“He’s been cleared to do everything,” Stoops said. “I don’t think Dom even knows until he’s gets on the pads and makes that sudden cut.”
The newcomer who figures to make the biggest difference is on the coaching staff. Oklahoma welcomes back Mike Stoops, Bob’s brother, as associate head coach and defensive coordinator.
Mike Stoops replaces Brent Venables, who left for Clemson. Both were members of the original coaching staff who arrived from Kansas State in time for the 1999 season and immediately returned Oklahoma to national prominence.
After eight seasons at Arizona, Mike Stoops was fired and landed back in Norman in hopes of rekindling the defensive dominance the helped Oklahoma to the 2000 national championship.
“Our track record working together and competing together is pretty positive,” Bob Stoops said. “I trust Mike’s judgment on a lot of issues.”