State of the Hogs: Blame Game

You can blame Matt Jones, but it's not really the right way to handle losing to Texas.

We like to lay blame when things don't end up just right. We do it in all areas of our lives. If there is someone to blame, we feel better. It's a bad deal, a bad habit.

I much prefer it when there is no finger pointing. Players don't do it much, but fans sure do. We want to know who missed an assignment, who failed to get it done.

When we determine the guilty person, we want action. Bench ‘em. Take away their scholarships. Fire them, if they are coaches.

We like it when our coaches step up after a tough loss and say, "I take responsibility. It's my fault. I apologize." If they don't do it just that way, we want their scalp.

I remember reading on message boards after a loss a couple of years ago, "I want my coach to step up and apologize."

That's bull crap and I hate it. I don't need it and don't understand it.

Isn't it understood that the coach is always responsible for the program? Don't we already know he's the one who takes it on his shoulder when there is a loss? Doesn't everyone know the buck stops at his desk?

I was sick at my stomach back in the mid ‘90s when Danny Ford would apologize for loss after loss, or say, "I got to help ‘em more to learn how not to not lose."

I probably got that wrong. I never knew when to stop with his double negatives and what they actually meant. I just knew he was trying hard to say he was sorry for some sorry football. Did I get that right?

(My favorite Danny Ford story is still the time he compared Madre Hill's second knee surgery to a woman's second child birth. Danny thought Madre would better understand the pain and the rehab on the second knee surgery and said, "You know that second kid just pops right out." No man can comment on the pain of child birth. Don't blame me, blame Danny.)

So I was glad that no one wanted an apology from Houston Nutt for not winning the Texas game last week. But, I was disappointed so many were happy that Matt Jones "stepped up" in the post-game locker room to accept blame.

That apparently was not enough for some fans. They wanted more. I was stunned when someone leaned out of a moving car at least twice Sunday afternoon as the Hogs practiced to yell something vulgar about Jones.

I was also stunned to hear that one reporter criticized Jones for avoiding reporters after the game Saturday night. He didn't. He got a quick shower and then stood at his locker while 8-10 reporters, most of them from the broadcast media, asked all of their questions. There were so many reporters I couldn't get close enough to hear the answers from the disappointed Jones. I was told he said over and over, "It was my fault." Or, "I played like a freshman."

When they were all done, I moved up to him and asked if he minded going through some of those same questions again.

Jones sat down, patted the empty locker with Landon Leach's name beside his and said, "Mr. Henry, sit here and we'll talk a bit." It was after midnight by then. He wasn't running from anybody or anything.

Matt Jones isn't perfect, but he's no coward. He isn't afraid of reporters. He isn't afraid of the competition, either.

Teammates know him as the ultimate competitor. He loves the games, and he'll be ready when Louisiana-Monroe comes to Little Rock this weekend.

Jones thinks his teammates are pretty good. He thinks they are going to have a good season, but he did offer one disclaimer.

"A lot of people thought this might be a 4-7 team," he said. "I never thought that. We will be pretty good, unless I play like that again."

It may be that he has some more off games, but not because he isn't trying.

I've heard people say that Jones fumbled because he was carrying the ball "like a loaf of bread," or "like a peewee player." That isn't true. He fumbled, but he had the three pressure points covered and the ball against his ribs as he's been taught. The other hand was in the process of covering the ball when it was poked out from behind. Check the tape. You can see that clearly.

Either way, Jones fumbled. He said, "I can't fumble in that situation. We were going to win the game if I didn't fumble. I know that."

Jones seemed okay when I visited with him after practice Tuesday afternoon. He smiled and his eyes sparkled when I asked if he'd had a tough couple of days since the end of the Texas game.

"Uh, it's been interesting," Jones said. "Nothing I can't handle. It'll be alright."

Someone told me that it was time to look more closely at Robert Johnson, the backup quarterback, in the wake of the Texas game. I mentioned that conversation to Jones. He nodded his head in agreement.

"Doesn't surprise me," he said. "Maybe they should."

I do not believe Matt Jones believes that. I don't believe many others believe it, either. Nothing against Johnson, but he's no Matt Jones just now. No, the Hogs are going to have to live with Matt Jones or die with him. I think the living is going to be pretty good. If it's not, he'll step up and say, "I didn't get it done. Blame me."

That will make some happy.

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