IRVING (AP) – Landry Jones is back where he made his Oklahoma debut, and again in the shadow of a Heisman Trophy winner.
Jones took over as the Sooners’ quarterback in the first-ever college game at Cowboys Stadium, in the 2009 season opener when he replaced injured Heisman winner Sam Bradford after halftime.
Three seasons later in the same stadium, Jones will make his 50th and last career start. The 12th-ranked Sooners play the Cotton Bowl on Friday night against 10th-ranked Texas A&M and dual-threat quarterback Johnny Manziel, the first freshman to win the Heisman.
Jones has won 39 games while throwing for 16,368 yards and 122 touchdowns. There have been two Big 12 titles and three bowl victories, including the Fiesta Bowl.
“It’s crazy, what a great quarterback he is,” Manziel said. “He’s thrown for more than 3,000 yards every year. Just the things he’s done at OU have been amazing. … I was in high school for two years while he was in college. I’m a big fan. I think he’s a great player.”
Manziel, meanwhile, burst on the scene in the Aggies’ first SEC season with plenty of highlight plays and big numbers of his own.
The redshirt freshman known as Johnny Football has thrown for 3,419 yards with 24 touchdowns, and run for another 1,181 yards and 19 scores. His 4,600 total yards broke the SEC record, and he’s only the fifth player with 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in the same season.
“It’s a testament to what kind of player he is, what type of person he is to be able to come in and play as well as he did as a freshman,” Jones said.
The Cotton Bowl matchup of 10-2 teams and former Big 12 rivals pits the steady veteran against the exciting 20-year-old freshman in only his 13th game but already with college football’s highest individual award.
“He knows exactly what he can and can’t do and he tries to do those things as well as he can, and certainly his ability to extend and create plays, there’s not really a defense for that,” Sooners defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said Tuesday.
Manziel got his chance as the Texas A&M starter after Ryan Tannehill was the eighth overall pick in the NFL draft last April. Aggies linebacker Jonathan Stewart remembers Manziel being erratic at times during spring drills, but saw a huge difference when fall practice got started.
“You could see him starting to try to be a true quarterback and not just a backyard quarterback, just trying to run around and improvise every single play,” Stewart said. “And then see him growing and growing all season, and then getting better and better every single week.”
Coach Kevin Sumlin announced Manziel as the starter two weeks before the season opener.
As a redshirt freshman, Jones was expected to back up Bradford, who as a sophomore the previous season won the Heisman Trophy as the Sooners made it to the BCS national championship game.
But Bradford injured his throwing shoulder when he was driven to the turf by a BYU defender in the opener. Jones took over after halftime and, except for two games Bradford played a few weeks later before leaving Oklahoma early for the NFL, has started every game since.
“Landry has had a long and great journey. It started here out of nowhere when Sam Bradford got hurt, and he genuinely could not wait for his opportunity,” Sooners coach Bob Stoops said. “Through the year he did a great job in tough circumstances with the other guys around him that were hurt. He has grown and developed through the years. … It has been special. He has been a great QB for us.”
Asked about his confidence going into any game with Jones, Stoops responded, “We have great confidence in Landry and we recognize what a great quarterback Johnny Manziel is, but we love our quarterback as well.”
As much as the Aggies love Manziel.
Texas A&M, like Oklahoma, enters the Cotton Bowl with a five-game winning streak. That includes a 29-24 win at then top-ranked Alabama, the SEC champion playing in the BCS national title game next week against No. 1 Notre Dame, the last team to beat the Sooners.
“You’ve got one guy that’s been doing it for a long time, then you’ve got Johnny, who’s been doing it for a year. But I’m confident in Johnny because he plays with a motor,” Aggies receiver Ryan Swope said. “He’s got a lot of confidence on the field. When the light’s flick on, it’s game time for him. He’s been huge for us.”
Just imagine what Manziel might be able to accomplish in 50 starts if he keeps up what he’s already doing.
“That will be interesting,” Swope said with a smile. “He’s got a bright, bright career ahead of him.”
For Jones, the Cotton Bowl is the finale of the career when he holds Sooner records for wins, passing yards, TD passes, pass attempts and completions. His Big 12-record 16,368 yards are nearly twice as many as No. 2 Bradford’s 8,403, and he’s doubled the attempts and completions of Josh Heupel, now the Sooners’ quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator.
“It’s just been a ride. I’m extremely blessed to have come this far in my career and have a chance to end it where it started,” Jones said. “It’s starting to hit me knowing that this is my last game, and wanting to go out on a positive note.
“I can still remember the first day and moving into the dorms and getting on campus,” he said. “It definitely has flown by.”
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