Opener Should Answer Some Questions

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas is supposed to beat New Mexico State this evening. The Razorbacks know it and so do the visitors from Las Cruces, N.M.

Even middle-of-the-pack in the Southeastern Conference is better than the upper echelon of the Sun Belt.

The lone cause for pause is the lack of experience. Arkansas' offensive line is all new and there are more than a dozen true freshmen sprinkled through the depth chart.

The background of defensive end Marcus Harrison helps with the picture. The first true freshman to start an opener at Arkansas in more than 20 years, he played high school football at Little Rock Mills in front of relatives and a few others. During his year at Hargrave Military Academy, there weren't even any relatives in the stands.

The 1,500 or so who attended a Razorback scrimmage a few weeks ago might be the biggest crowd to ever see him play. Tonight, there should be about 70,000.

"I think it's going to be unique, not just for him, but for a lot of them," said defensive line coach Tracy Rocker. "I just wonder how it's going to transform when you're getting that huddle call for that defense and you've got 72,000 people screaming. You've got the band playing, the cheerleaders yelling ... it's a whole different deal."

Seniors like Jeb Huckeba have been good about reminding the young pups that game day is unique.

Even though left tackle Tony Ugoh, left guard Stephen Parker, center Kyle Roper, and right guard Gene Perry haved played, none have started a game. Tight end Jared Hicks started three games last year and right tackle Zac Tubbs was in the lineup at the Independence Bowl in place of Shawn Andrews.

All of that simply emphasizes the burden on quarterback Matt Jones, the only returning starter on offense.

"If you have to start with one, he's the one to start with," said Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. Yet, Nutt wants Jones to go with the flow and let the big plays happen naturally.

Last year against the Aggies, Jones completed 8-of-10 for 139 and carried seven times for 132. His 62-yard run midway through the third quarter made it 28-17 and the Razorbacks added two more touchdowns in the next few minutes.

"He's got a good arm, but sometimes you wonder if you don't want to let him just throw it instead of take off running," said NMSU coach Tony Samuel. Because of Jones' deceptive speed, taking the proper angle of pursuit is a must, he said.

Ten of those NMSU defenders who chased Jones last year are back.

On the other side, the Aggies have a good guard in Steve Subia, plus quarterback Buck Pierce, who completed 19-of-26 for 214 yards in Fayetteville last November. Gone are his top three receivers and, more importantly, three offensive lineman. Such departures could mean sack opportunities for Harrison, Huckeba, Arrion Dixon, Jeremy Harrell and others in Rocker's eight-man rotation.

During the summer, fans and media go on and on about the soon-to-be season with anticipation, believing this or that. That's the case in Arkansas and throughout the country. That eagerness infects everybody interested in the program, including athletic director Frank Broyles.

Early in the week, he stuck his head in the door of the sports information office and asked a visitor for his take on the season. The man on the spot mumbled something inane about how difficult it is to get a handle on a young team.

Broyles agreed, adding the Razorbacks would do OK as long as they don't know they're young.

Beginning this evening, there will be a smattering of something concrete where now there is nothing but question marks. Just as important, the bottom line should be satisfactory -- something about 14 points more than the Aggies.

Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media Group's Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is

Hawgs Daily Top Stories