Jones Made The Difference

FAYETTEVILLE -Soon after the clock ran down on Arkansas' giant Southeastern Conference-opening 27-10 win against Alabama in Razorback Stadium on a breezy, muggy Saturday afternoon, 6-foot-3, 310-pound Arkansas right guard Gene Perry hollered, his voice pitched high.

"Matt Jones! Matt Jones! Matt Jones!" Perry shrieked while making his way to the locker room.

Matt Jones. Like so many times the last four bowl seasons, Matt Jones, Arkansas' phenomenal senior quarterback, was the story of this game.

Against what Jones and Arkansas coach Houston Nutt called the best defense they've faced this season, a speedy unit led by former Arkansas coordinator Joe Kines that came in leading the SEC, Jones ran wild. Of Arkansas' 333 total yards, Jones accounted for 182.

He was involved in all three of Arkansas' jaw-dropping and crucial plays:

* The roll out to the right side from the Alabama 6 during which Jones swooped all the way back to the 22 to get past Wallace Gilberry and Roman Harper before cutting sharply back to his left for the game's first touchdown less than five minutes into this. That 63rd TD made Jones the all-time Arkansas touchdown responsibility guy.

"He's faster than we all think," said second-year Alabama coach Heath Shula. "He outran Roman (Harper), who is our fastest guy."

* The roll to the right in the final minute of the first half from the Alabama 18 when Jones had Gilberry on his heels and Peyton Hillis in front of him, although the freshman running back was sandwiched by cornerback Eric Gray and safety Charlie Peprah. No problem. Jones flicked it perfectly and Hillis made a one-handed grab for the 14-10 halftime lead.

* The gamebreaker which came after a sack and 13-yard Jones keeper on an option. Midway through the fourth quarter, Jones again sprinted right, turning the corner and high-stepping down the Alabama sideline as Hillis held off Harper downfield. The 50-yard gallop put Arkansas at the Alabama 24 and led to Hillis' 7-yard TD run for 20-10 with just 3 minutes, 2 seconds left to play.

"Me and (right tackle) Zac (Tubbs) just said, 'Run! Run, Matt!'" Perry said. "And he took it on down the field. That's just Matt. That's one of his tricks. He doesn't ever tell you when he's going to tuck and run.

"I've learned to be immune to it. Just let him do what he's going to do. Matt will be Matt all the time."

Said Arkansas senior defensive end Jeb Huckeba: "That run he made to keep the drive going was unbelievable, and I give a lot of credit to him. He's a very special player.

"The offensive line protected well. And when you've got a playmaker like that, especially a senior who's been back there, you're going to have fun on offense and he's going to make big plays for us when we need them -in the clutch situations."

With the usually accurate Jones having an off-day passing (7 of 12 for 122 yards with the TD and an interception), and with Arkansas running backs being snuffed by massive, quick Crimson Tide linemen and jarring linebackers, Nutt decided the Hogs' hopes would rest on Jones' legs.

"We started getting in and out of the huddle and got the ball in Matt Jones' hands," Nutt said. "It's a read. They were giving him the read to hand it off and we'd make four or five (yards). We were trying to get the ball in Matt Jones' hands.

"He really made the difference. Matt won out for us, taking care of the ball, getting 'em in and out of the huddle. Just so good to have a veteran like that in a game like this.

"They were going to try to take it away from Matt."

Nice strategy. No way. Even the Tide knew what was coming.

"We knew Jones would make big plays," Harper said.

Said Nutt: "Nothing like having No. 9, a senior, handling the ball for you. Takes a lot of stress off our offense."

Afterward, a shirtless Jones casually munched pizza and shrugged off a stupid question about last year's game and others about his dazzling runs. Jones dodges those like defenders.

Speaking of defenders, Jones credited Arkansas' for holding the Tide to 328 yards and 10 points.

"Man, I don't know," said Jones of his mad dashes. "I'm just glad the defense gave us good field position to get us in that situation. I think that really helped us out.

"This game definitely helps our defense. This just shows how strong our defense is, to be able to hold Alabama to 10 points, shut 'em out the second half. That's awesome. I felt the way they played gave us some good field position."

At 3-1 and, more important, 1-0 in the SEC, Arkansas has put itself in good position with the brutal at No. 16 Florida, at No. 9 Auburn and against No. 3 Georgia stretch looming.

"We knew Alabama was going to be a big game, first SEC game," Jones said. "We wanted to start off right.

"Probably one of the biggest wins we've had since I've been here."

Huckabe just shook his head.

"I'm so glad he's our quarterback, and I feel like we've got something special going if we continue to work hard and improve," Huckabe said.

Arkansas turned the corner Saturday.

Because Jones did.

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