Because Of Jones, Hogs Made It Close

Arkansas senior quarterback Matt Jones' shaggy, reddish hair was soaking wet as he pulled off giant cleats after Saturday's 45-30 loss at super-muggy, 80-something degrees Florida.



A nasty, saucer-sized whelp was on his right biceps and there was another like it, but smaller, on his left forearm.

Like his teammates who started this horribly (several Keystone Cops-like special teams gaffes, missed tackles, horrific secondary play, bad passes and drops), Jones kept battling the boiling sun, the odds and No. 16 Florida's dandy athletes, slicing a 35-7 (yep, 35-7) halftime deficit to 38-30 with 6 minutes and 47 seconds remaining in the game.

"A lot of (the comeback) had to do with Matt Jones," said Florida coach Ron Zook, who remembers well Jones' fourth-quarter rally last season that came up just short in the Gators' 33-28 win in Fayetteville. "They have a big-time quarterback. He's a big-time player.

"There were two or three plays where we over-ran the quarterback and he cut back in and made great plays. When we get tired, it's so much easier to let him in like that. And his arm just flings it down there.

"He headed a great comeback."

But why the shaky start?

"Yeah, I mean, I don't know," said Jones, who several times complimented the Arkansas defense for getting off to a good start (the Hogs held UF to two yards on its first possession, the Gators lost nine yards on their second, then managed just seven on their third before exploding for five straight touchdowns). "I don't know what happened. Have to go watch film, I guess. We were just a little off.

"Our defense was playing real well in the first quarter, getting us the ball, and we needed to get some points and we couldn't."

As usual, Jones just kept coming. After going 9 of 16 for 108 yards and no touchdowns with an interception and rushing six times for 34 yards in the first half, he hit 14 of 23 pass attempts for 144 yards, including a 7-yard TD strike to Marcus Monk and two two-point conversions in the second. He also ran four times for 34 yards, counting a 25-yard scamper down the left sideline when he beat Florida's fast defense to the outside and into the end zone.

"He's a great quarterback," said Florida sophomore linebacker Channing Crowder, a seriously bad dude. "He didn't do much in the first half, so we knew he was going to come out and make plays because he's an amazing quarterback."

There wasn't much to say in the Arkansas locker room at intermission.

"Real quiet," said Jones of the ambiance. "We didn't say a whole lot. We knew we could play. We knew we would go out there and get some stops and get some points, and that's what we were able to do."

At 38-30, the 90,014 fans (except the 3,000 from Arkansas who were calling the Hogs) on hand were eerily silent, save for a smattering of boos toward the Gators' defense. Florida players who had been helmet-slapping, high-fiving and posturing on the home sideline most of the game serioused up and stepped several feet onto the Florida Field grass, pumping fists and words of encouragement at their teammates as Jones lined the Hogs up on their 27-yard line.

The man who has engineered the two longest wins in NCAA Division I history – both seven overtimes and on the road – figured the Hogs would find a way to pull this off.

"Well, I always think we can win until that final horn sounds and the game's over," Jones said.

Jones, who had been wearing Florida's right side out, hit Cedric Washington for 7 yards in that direction. Then he faked a pitch, freezing Gators before churning for 8 more. After a first down at the 42, a Jones pass to Birmingham in the left flat lost 2 yards.

Then Jones gunned for Carlos Ousley, who was working right to left. The pass was a bit behind Ousley, who got his left hand on the ball, flicking it upward and into the arms of Crowder, who returned it 22 yards.

"That's one you wish (Ousley) would've just let go, but he was just trying to make a play," said Jones, shrugging his weary shoulders. "It's still my fault. He got a hand on it and knocked it to the linebacker, but, oh well."

Florida quarterback Chris Leak's 2-yard toss to Dallas Baker in the back of the end zone pretty much sealed the deal with 1:46 left.

Reynaldo Hill finished it for certain with an interception with 46 seconds remaining.

"The two interceptions, that's what's hard," said Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. "They know you're going to pass and you can't play your game – run and pass. You've got to get in the (shot)gun and start throwing it. Everybody knows to break on the ball. It's pretty simple.

"Sometimes they're dropping eight, seven (players back for pass coverage). It's tough. Tough way to go."

Largely because of Jones' second half, Arkansas kept pace with the Gators on the stat sheets, racking up more first downs (22-20) and keeping the ball almost four minutes longer. After being outgunned and outgained (327 yards to 193) in the first half, Arkansas' 386 total yards were within 54 of Florida's for the game.

"We've got to play like that the whole game," said Jones of the second-half rally. "We can't just play like that in the second half. In the first quarter, we've got to be ready to go."

After this, the Arkansas fans in the Florida student section hung around. Fittingly, Jones was the last Hog to leave The Swamp. Red-shirted folks screamed his name as Jones reached into the stands to get hugs from his mom and dad.

As Jones walked toward the tunnel that led to the visitors' locker room, Florida fans lined the entrance, standing and clapping in near-reverence.

"We've gotta go back and watch film and see the mistakes we made early on," Jones said. "When our defense gets them to go three-and-out the first few possessions, we've gotta get points on the board. We've gotta really check that out."

As he entered the tunnel, someone yelled.

"Thank you, Matt."

Not certain it came from an Arkansas fan.

Could've been a Florida follower relieved the Gators never will have to deal with him again.


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