Originally posted on Fox Sports Southwest  |  Last updated 10/29/11
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- Landry Jones stood on the sideline, looking around, asking his teammates, then looking around some more. Darned if the quarterback couldn't find his helmet. You can't fault the guy for being a bit forgetful, not on Saturday. He had plenty else on his mind. The clock was winding down on his Oklahoma Sooners' 58-17 victory over the 8th-ranked Kansas State Wildcats, not just a victory, but a statement that announced to the college football world that the Sooners were back -- and back in a very big way -- after their shocking first loss of the season a week ago to then-unranked Texas Tech. In this game, Jones was the hero. He threw for 5 touchdowns and 505 yards, the first Sooner quarterback ever to toss for 500 yards in a game. Jones surpassed the school's all-time passing touchdown record of former Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford with a dazzling one-handed catch by Jaz Reynolds in the third quarter, the 89th TD pass of Jones' career. And just as we were ready to write his Sooners off, Jones vaulted them right back into the "best-in-the-country" discussion with his handling of the Sooners' extraordinarily efficient offense, which picked apart the K-State defense for 44 unanswered points after falling behind in the second quarter. Now it was almost time to celebrate, yet Jones wasn't ready. His head coach, Bob Stoops, was about to head to mid-field for the postgame handshake. The television cameras were preparing to interview Jones about his record-setting day. The small Sooner contingent at Bill Snyder Family Stadium was getting ready to slap high-fives with players as soon as the clock hit zero. But the quarterback was missing something. "Guys, where's my helmet?" he shouted at teammates. But teammates were paying attention to other things, like running back Dominique Whaley, who'd fractured his ankle on the game's first play and was now getting carried, his leg in a cast, from the bench to a cart. And as Whaley was lifted off the bench, there it appeared, under that bench, Jones' misplaced helmet, and Jones picked it up just before the clock struck zero. Jones followed his teammates toward the Sooner fans in the end zone, heard the loudest cheers of any player, and walked past the Sooner cheerleaders and the Sooner mascot and the old lady who grabbed him for a hug and a peck on the cheek. Then he jogged into the locker room, followed by linebacker Travis Lewis, who exuberantly told this to the gathering media: "Y'all better jump back on that bandwagon, baby!" That Sooner swagger, it seems, is back. "We played better today -- whether it has to do with attitude or not, it does not matter much to me," Stoops said after the game. "We just need to play like that every week. Last week is last week. (Texas Tech) outplayed us and outcoached us. I said that all last week. So that is in the past." The recent past for this Sooner squad was pretty ugly: The Red Raiders, four-touchdown underdogs, came into the Sooners' house and spoiled the nation's longest home winning streak at 39 games. A week ago the Sooners laid an egg in the first half, falling to a 31-7 deficit early in the third quarter that they could never overcome. And coming into Manhattan on Saturday, Oklahoma showed echoes of another surreal first-half stinker. The Wildcats arrived to a purple-clad sellout crowd, and they seemed the team with swagger, no matter that the home team was two-touchdown underdogs. The Wildcats got into a crouch when they emerged from the tunnel, swaying back and forth before tearing across the field for their team introduction. The two teams even scuffled a bit before kickoff, adding to the intense Homecoming atmosphere in the first matchup between two top-10 teams here in 11 years. The world seemed a bit upside down: The K-State Wildcats were looking to get to 8-0 for the first time since 1999. A win against the Sooners would put them at the head of the Big 12 title race and give more momentum to head coach Bill Snyder's second Miracle in Manhattan. And the Sooners were the team that was reeling, their national title hopes perhaps dashed after last week's upset. But the Sooners burst to a 14-0 lead, and a blowout seemed in order. Jones was getting an eternity of pass protection on every play, and Oklahoma's bigger, faster receivers overwhelmed the K-State secondary. Then the Wildcats showed life in the second quarter. Their methodical running attack started racking up first down after first down. Quarterback Collin Klein, fourth in the nation in rushing touchdowns entering the game, scored on a 42-yard run where he bounced off Sooner tacklers. Then he scored on a 2-yard run when he ran into the end zone unscathed. Meanwhile, Jones tossed two interceptions. Suddenly, with the Wildcats up 17-14 late in the first half, a Saturday miracle looked like a real possibility in Manhattan. But then came Landry Jones and his stellar receiving corps, Ryan Broyles and Kenny Stills and Jaz Reynolds and more. And we all remembered, with their high-powered, fast-tempo offense, why Oklahoma was the preseason No. 1. "The plan was just to win the game, whichever way we had to get it done," Jones said. "We have one of the best receiving corps in the country. It's fortunate for me that you can do those things and put it up for those guys and let 'em make competitive plays one-on-one. I'll take our guys against a lotta people in this country." When the second half began, the Sooners clinging to a 23-17 lead, Jones showed just what this offense can do when they're clicking. First possession of the half: five plays, 63 yards, 1:18 elapsed on the clock, 29-yard touchdown pass to Broyles. Second possession: six plays, 68 yards, 2:40, 8-yard TD pass to Reynolds. Third possession: four plays, 62 yards, 50 seconds, TD run. Fourth: three plays, 67 yards, 48 seconds, TD pass. Fifth: three plays, 72 yards, 1:27, TD run. To summarize, in five touchdown drives, Jones and his Sooners had used barely more than 7 minutes of clock time. Meanwhile, the Wildcats had gained 28 yards on offense and punted six times. The blowout was official. The Sooners were back. And Jones was the one who righted the ship. "It is really amazing on what (Jones) is able to do," Stoops said after the game. "Despite being away from home, he went 35 for 47 with 5 touchdowns and 505 yards. That is quite a day. I thought the receivers, tight ends and everybody else helped him in his execution." "It is unimaginable, especially in this day and age," Broyles said of his quarterback's 505-yard day. "We throw the ball around a lot, and (quarterbacks coach Josh) Heupel has a lot of trust in Landry, and they put the ball in his hands and he makes the right decisions." All seemed right in the college football world again. Kansas State's top-10 ranking was outed for exactly what it was: A fluke with no chance of lasting. And suddenly, the whispers could be heard out of Norman, or at least out of the sportswriters surrounding the Sooners: Could this team still be in national championship contention, if the Sooners win out? "I'm just worried about winning next week," Stoops answered abruptly. "OK? So you guys can do all that you want." But after the resounding victory, there's no avoiding talk of national championship chances, no matter how much of a long shot it remains. A national title, of course, was why Broyles and linebacker Travis Lewis came back for their senior years. Their last game of the season will be against the undefeated, third-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys, which would be a huge win to end the Sooners' year. One team has to lose in next weekend's No. 1-vs.-2 matchup between Louisiana State and Alabama. Boise State is still in the Mountain West, and Stanford will have to beat Oregon then make it through the Pac-12 championship game to remain undefeated. And as the Sooners boarded team buses under a setting sun, heading back to Norman with a win against a top-10 team, it was unmistakable that their swagger was back, their ship was righted, and, in the back of their minds, those national-title dreams were still alive. "Last Saturday was embarrassing, (so) we had to come out here and fix our mistakes," Reynolds said. "Our backs are against the wall. We lost last week. If you lose another one, the Big 12 hopes, the national championship hopes, everything will be out if you lose this game. So it was just everything on the line this week." "There's a lot of good teams out there," Reynolds continued. "If we don't get the bid, we understand. We got the one loss, the one bad loss. If there's two undefeated teams in the national championship, we won't be bitter." But on Saturday night, the buses rumbling back home, you can be sure there was no bitterness among the Oklahoma Sooners. Just a lot of big-game excitement, and a glimmer of hope for the future, and, of course, that familiar Sooner swagger. You can follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter @reidforgrave or email him at reidforgrave@gmail.com.
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