Jones, who returned to OU despite being a likely first round draft pick last year, hasn't had near the start to the 2012 season most expected he would. He's been quite inconsistent and made several critical mistakes that led to a 24-19 upset loss against Kansas State. Still, he got it together in a hostile environment last weekend at Texas Tech just in time for the Red River Rivalry. Jones seemed to regain his confidence by commanding his offense with 25-of-40 passing for 259 yards and two touchdowns, no interceptions. He's thrown for 1,032 yards and seven touchdowns with two picks in four contests and will likely need to be more efficient than his 63.3 percent completion rate he's compiled to this point in order for the Sooners to have a chance in this one.
The key for the Longhorns all along here was going to be finding a second safety to pair with All-American Kenny Vaccaro. And based on last week's performance, the Longhorns may have found that player in sophomore Mykkele Thompson. An athletic 6-foot-2 high school option quarterback, Thompson has picked things up physically and is a more reliable tackler now, and his athleticism and range gives Texas some serious options. He started last week against West Virginia, largely because Texas came out in nickel, but this week he's listed as the full-on starter at strong safety. Adrian Phillips, a jack-of-all-trades type, was expected to win that job and started off the season there, but he's been replaced after some tackling issues. He will still see plenty of time in nickel and dime situations, and has some value based on his cover skills. Josh Turner is the sixth defensive back and had outstanding speed. But the important guy is Vaccaro, one of the Big 12's hardest hitters and one of the Longhorns' best cover guys. There aren't a lot of 215-pound players with his versatility, and he can impact a game as a blitzer — he's forced multiple turnovers as a pass rusher — a cover guy or somebody in run support. If Thompson can emerge next to him, and can continue to make improvements on a strong West Virginia performance, this group becomes a lot better.
In the Red River Rivalry, experience is even more valuable than a normal game and perhaps the most important factor in who wins. Despite his relatively sluggish start to his final season, the Sooners have this in Jones, who is currently 2-0 as a starter against Texas. In fact, he could join Jimmy Harris, Steve Davis and Jamelle Holloway as the only other Sooner signal callers to go 3-0 against the ‘Horns should he win this one. The Longhorns also have this experience, though, in Vaccaro, the preseason All-Big 12 defensive back recipient. And the now-starting Thompson is a nice option at strong safety. Jones, though, should enough weapons that he has a slight edge here.
Texas has a potential All-American here in Vaccaro, who is playing at a high level. And Jones has a tendency to fade in-and-out with good and bad performances. Still, as a position group, the advantage here has to go to the Sooners. Texas is still somewhat figuring out the other safety spot, and while Mykkele Thompson has outstanding potential, he's not quite there yet, and the Longhorns are still searching for quality depth. And that's enough to slide this one over to Oklahoma.