State of the Hogs: Huge Game

Pat Jones covered some history and put this week's Arkansas game in perspective at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club on Wednesday. Among the tidbits was a ranking of the all-time top five Razorbacks.

Pat Jones dropped a few names Wednesday at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club. He ran through a who's who of running backs, his all-time top five Arkansas football players and the former Oklahoma State coach described the sensation of coaching Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders at the same time.

"Yeah, I'm the guy who played Thurman Thomas ahead of Barry Sanders," said Jones, the 1969 Arkansas graduate. "Yeah, that makes me a complete dumb ass."

Actually, it's good to remember that Sanders was hardly more than a two star prospect, discovered only because his high school team also had a three-star lineman that attracted a stop by OSU assistant George Walstad.

OSU backfield coach Bill Shimek, an Arkansas native, took one look at a highlight's tape and decided it would be wise not to return it and risk someone at Oklahoma or Nebraska getting a look. The old spliced together 16mm film was finally sent back to the high school coach after Sanders signed with the Cowboys.

Jones wasn't too dumb. Thomas and Sanders both made it to the NFL Hall of Fame. He is the only college coach to have two running backs at the same time "who have their busts displayed at Canton."

Jones still marvels at the day when NFL owners and head coaches came to see Sanders on his testing day after his junior season, back when not many juniors turned pro. A disinterested Sanders did 40 on the vertical jump. And when prodded to put something into it, did a double pump in the air kind of like Michael Jordan to flip over the clip at 42 inches, then later dunked a basketball flat footed.

If Jones has seen a tandem like Thomas and Sanders, what does he think of the Arkansas duo of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams? Are they good enough to deserve a nickname? Never mind, one has already been tossed out by fans, Beauty and the Beast.

"They are very good young backs," Jones said. "But I remember coming over here to watch Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Peyton Hillis, Jamal Anderson and Chris Houston practice. They don't have any like them right now."

Jones said that doesn't mean the Hogs can't win some games with their current talent, thanks to great respect for the current coaches. He's old friends with Randy Shannon, the linebackers coach. He also knows Sam Pittman from his Oklahoma days. There are ties between Jones and other UA assistants. He was invited by Shannon to watch the last UA preseason scrimmage.

"This bunch (of coaches) now, they get after them," Jones said. "They coach with a ton of energy.

"They can win, but they will have to gut out games like what I saw Saturday against Southern Miss. They will have to gouge it out. The running backs are impressive and the tight ends are good. The freshman, Hunter Henry, is going to be a really good player when he grows up. I told Randy they are doing some interesting things with Jarrett Lake at linebacker."

The key for the Hogs is the schedule. There is nothing easy ahead.

"I call it playing uphill and against the wind in golf," Jones said. "They have Rutgers this week and it's a big game. In all honesty, the Razorbacks might be playing for a bowl game.

"If they can go up there and gut it out for 4-0, we can see what happens. But they are in the toughest division of college football. Ole Miss is better and LSU, that might be the sleeper. I see them play defense and it's still bam, bam, bam."

Collins and Williams were actually ranked higher than Sanders when they were signed by the Hogs. And they are off to a faster start, ranked one-two in the SEC in rushing after their first three games. Sanders was doing his damage on kickoff returns as a freshman.

Collins and Williams have jumped to such a fast start that fans are falling over themselves trying to become the first to come up with a proper nickname. That wasn't going on when Thomas and Sanders were the rage at Oklahoma State. At least, Jones doesn't remember any.

Williams thought it interesting when he was told about fans trying to label them as Beauty and the Beast. He knows that must mean they are doing something right.

"We don't go by that around each other," Williams said. "But I guess that just says we have done some good things."

Collins liked it and admitted he knew of the Beauty and Beast talk.

So who is beauty, who is beast?

"I think I'm beauty," Collins said, "but I hate to break that to him."

Former NFL line coach Larry Beightol was at the head table as guest of Jones on Wednesday. He said he's studied the first three games and was smitten with the young backs. The good news, Beightol thinks both are going to get better.

"I like the freshman, Collins," he said. "But he left a lot of yards on the field Saturday against Southern Miss. He spends a lot of time looking for the cutback. I like patience, but there were some things he tried to do that would be better served a little deeper in a play. He had a few chances to get to the second level, past the linebackers with what was blocked. Then, when he's there, that cutback gets him out the gate. He'll learn."

Jones had another invited guest at his table, Outland Trophy winner Loyd Phillips. Jones was just behind him at Arkansas and grew up admiring his play from 1964-66 when Phillips was a two-time All-American. Jones surprised Phillips with the top spot on his personal list of the top five Razorbacks of all time.

"There are so many great players and you are going to leave some off that might can be argued like a Jim Mooty, Clyde Scott, Wayne Martin, Billy Ray Smith and many others," Jones said. "It's unfair, but who cares."

The Jones list: 1, Loyd Phillips. 2, Lance Alworth. 3, Dan Hampton. 4, Darren McFadden. 5, Wayne Harris.

"Harris still comes up in conversations I have with Barry Switzer," Jones said. "Switzer said he set the standards for linebacker play.

"McFadden, I know NFL folks who still had mixed emotions of who was better, him or Adrian Peterson. McFadden was two-time Heisman runnerup.

"I was around Hampton a little help Jimmy Johnson coach the defensive line. He was so flexible and could really run. I do remember that he played in the band at Jacksonville.

"Alworth was the first guy I can remember that made you jump out of your chair when he touched the ball, a guy like a Sanders, a Joe Washington. He had the wow factor.

"Loyd Phillips had such agility, body control, flexibility, ability to run, toughness and strength. Everyone talks about how you defend the spread. It's with great defensive linemen. He was the best player ever at the UofA."

Jones enjoyed talking about the all-time greatest running backs. He told the TD Club he would put Sanders alongside Jim Brown, Eric Dickerson and Walter Payton. Later, he said he forgot Earl Campbell.

Sanders, counting the Holiday Bowl, rushed for 2,850 yards in his final year at OSU, scoring 44 touchdowns.

"I'm such a nice guy, I pulled him off the field some games," Jones said, "or Barry would have gained another 1,000 yards. He broke the touchdown record by 25! I know I'm a homer type, but I think he was the best ever."

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