Sometimes freshmen have to grow up at warp speed. And that means some out-of-control moments and plenty of bumps, bruises and learning experiences.
Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones knows all about it. He wasn't expecting to have the keys to the Sooners' offense handed to him this season. It was supposed to be Sam Bradford's team while Jones sat on the sideline and learned as much as he could.
That all changed at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington when Bradford hurt his shoulder in the Sooners' season-opening loss to BYU. Jones had to step in and, outside of five quarters, run the Sooners' offense this season.
"I came into the season thinking I was going to be a backup, and Sam goes down and I get thrown into the fire," Jones told the media in El Paso last week as he prepared for Thursday's Brut Sun Bowl against the Stanford Cardinal. "I'm trying to do the best I can out here and get better."
Jones, as expected, has had some struggles. His biggest came at Nebraska on Nov. 7, when he threw five interceptions in a 10-3 loss. One of the interceptions was deep in Oklahoma territory and ended up as the Cornhuskers' lone touchdown. The other four were on the Nebraska side of the 50-yard line, two of them inside the 40. Jones was just 26-of-58 for 245 passing yards, and Oklahoma managed only 80 net rushing yards. Jones didn't look comfortable, and some fans questioned whether he could handle the pressure.
But he bounced back the next Saturday in a big way, throwing for 392 yards and five touchdowns in a 65-10 win over Texas A&M at home. It showed Jones' character and desire to lead the offense.
It's an offense that has struggled on the road this season. Oklahoma has averaged 315 yards of total offense in its six road and neutral-site games. At home, the Sooners have averaged 524 yards per game. That's a huge 209-yard difference.
"It comes down to execution," Jones said. "We have great talent. We know what we can do. We've shown at home we can be a great offense. We have to carry that on the road."
Away from Norman, Jones' completion percentage is down, and he's thrown for an average of 240 yards. He has eight interceptions and five touchdowns in road games.
Thursday is another chance for Jones and the offense to change that trend. It's also an opportunity to go into the offseason on a high after a disappointing season.
"It's a huge game for us," Jones said. "It's been a while since we won a bowl game. We're treating this like a business trip. We're here to play a ballgame. We want to win and get some momentum going into 2010."
It could be a momentum boost for Jones, too. As much as this season has been tough for Oklahoma fans to take, it's been an opportunity for Jones to make some mistakes and learn from them. In practice, Sooners coach Bob Stoops has seen a motivated player.
"He has done a nice job," Stoops said before the team headed to El Paso. "He has come on. I feel he has done that through the year. In the end, the extra work with him and the receivers together have made some strides."
Those strides can get a little bigger with a win -- or at the very least, a good showing for the offense -- against Stanford.