|Oklahoma QB Landry Jones did not put up big numbers in Saturday's opener at UTEP, and a lack of protection was one reason why. (US Presswire)|
Landry Jones might as well have been lathered in gold on Saturday in El Paso, Texas. The UTEP Miners chased after Jones like he was the grand prize, and the Oklahoma offensive line offered little resistance.
Jones was sacked three times in Oklahoma's 24-7 win, and when the Miners couldn't get to him, they often forced him to rush his throw or scramble out of the pocket.
The performance reminded us that the Sooners lost two veteran offensive linemen to season-ending injuries during camp: C Ben Habern and G Tyler Evans. It was also the major difference in Week 1 between Oklahoma's offense and the offense of its greatest challenger, West Virginia.
Both quarterbacks were facing teams that ranked in the bottom 30 in pass defense in 2011. Geno Smith barely wrinkled his jersey and had as much time as he wanted to go 32 of 36 for 323 yards and four touchdowns in a 69-34 Mountaineers' win over Marshall.
Jones had the second-worst completion percentage of any Big 12 quarterback in Week 1, going 22 of 36 for 222 yards and two touchdowns.
"When you got guys open, the line broke down," coach Bob Stoops said, via the Oklahoman. "When the line held, then we didn't get open. It's just putting it all together."
The main concern for Stoops had to be his offensive line, which also had problems protecting Jones at the end of last season. In Oklahoma's first nine games of 2011 -- when the Sooners went 8-1 -- the O-line allowed only four sacks. In their final four games -- two losses -- they allowed seven sacks, five of which came in those two losses.
Jones struggled down the stretch, and the logical explanation was the loss of his favorite target, Ryan Broyles, not the offensive line. Jones completed 64.6 percent of his passes and threw for 28 touchdowns and nine interceptions before Broyles injured his knee; without Broyles, he completed 59.7 percent, threw for a touchdown and was intercepted six times.
Stoops has been on the defensive when it comes to his quarterback ever since. At Big 12 media days, he said: "I didn't ask him to improve on anything. I asked the 10 guys around him to improve."
Again on Saturday, it was much of the same.
"I think, whether it's experience, whether it's communicating ... I believe the guys up there are talented enough in what you need to get it done," Stoops told the Oklahoman. "We just have to do a better job of them executing it, and us getting them to execute it."
The one positive for the Sooners is they play in a conference that is not filled with great pass-rushers. Six of the Big 12 teams ranked 84th or worse in sacks per game last year. Oklahoma had the best pass-rush in 2011 -- luckily, Jones doesn't have to worry about his own team -- and Texas and West Virginia tied for No. 29 with 30 sacks apiece.
Of course, that might not matter much as the Miners only had 23 sacks last season and had few problems getting to Jones. Big 12 defensive coordinators were sure to take notice.
To Jones' credit, he did a nice job of maneuvering around the pocket and showed some nice footwork that was developed during the offseason working with quarterback guru George Whitefield Jr., who has also worked with Andrew Luck and Cam Newton.
Jones also didn't give the ball away, and Oklahoma's defense didn't allow an offensive touchdown. The return of Mike Stoops as defensive coordinator could be making a difference, but points are going to be scored in the Big 12.
Bob Stoops and offensive coordinator Josh Heupel might want to reconsider how they are protecting Jones without Habern and Evans.
When the Sooners lost both players in the preseason, Stoops said: "I don't see anything here so far that should hold us back very much."
On Saturday, Stoops saw something.
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from Big 12 bloggers C.J. Moore and Patrick Southern, follow @CBSSportsBig12 on Twitter. You can also follow C.J. (@cjmoore4) and Patrick (@patricksouthern) as well.