Running For Records

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas' defense gets a dose of quarterback Matt Jones in practice every day, but it doesn't mean the Hogs are any closer to figuring out how to corral the 6-foot-6, 237-pound senior than anybody else.

Jones proved it again Tuesday when he rolled left, tucked the ball and turned upfield for a big run. Linebacker Marcus Whitmore tried to beat Jones to the corner, but ended up grasping for air while the senior sprinted untouched down the sideline.

"That boy's got some speed," said linebacker Michael Robinson as he watched in amazement.

The good news is Arkansas opponents have had their hands full trying to stop Jones the past four seasons, too.

The jaw-dropping Jones has used his lanky legs and uncanny instincts to elude defenders en route to 2,226 career rushing yards, which places him on the doorstep of a Southeastern Conference record. Jones needs 55 yards during Saturday's game at No. 4 Auburn (6-0, 3-0 in SEC) to become the SEC's career rushing leader for quarterbacks, a title held by Mississippi State's John Bond since 1983.

Jones' attempt at the milestone comes against a stingy Auburn defense ranked fourth in the nation in scoring (7.2 points allowed) and seventh in total yards allowed (250.3). But Arkansas receiver Steven Harris said the Hogs (3-2, 1-1) probably need a record-breaking performance from Jones to stay alive in the SEC title chase.

"The SEC has been around for a long time, and for him to break one of those records, that's amazing," Harris said. "If he breaks this record in this game, we probably win. We hope we can do things outside of that, but if he has a good game ... I don't care how we win. If it's (with Jones' feet), so be it."

Arkansas has followed Jones' legs to victories plenty of times since 2001.

Jones first flashed his threat as a ball carrier with a 59-yard touchdown run as a true freshman in Arkansas' 42-19 win against Weber State. He recorded a 45-yard, fourth-quarter run on a quarterback draw that led the Hogs to a game-winning score against Mississippi State seven weeks later.

Jones showed off his deceptive speed and elusiveness during a 60-yard run in the first half of Arkansas' 38-28 win at Texas in 2003. Then there was the 50-yard run in the fourth quarter against Alabama on Sept. 25, when Jones outran the Crimson Tide to set up Arkansas' game-clinching touchdown in a 27-10 win.

"It might not be as important, but I remember the Tulsa game last year when he made that (53-yard touchdown) run," Harris said. "I think that's the first time I've ever seen him break on my side. In the middle of the play, I started watching and was amazed as much as the fans were."

Linebacker Clarke Moore remembered Jones' 70-yard touchdown run the last time Arkansas played at Auburn in 2002. Moore said Jones sealed the 38-17 win by "running away from a cornerback" for the longest carry of his career.

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said every team has underestimated Jones' speed for years. Tuberville said there's no good way to defend Jones except play as consistent as possible and hope he makes mistakes.

"He's probably the biggest and also one of the fastest guys in our league," Tuberville said. "You look at him and he doesn't look fast, but he covers five yards a stride and he moves down the field about as fast as anybody I've ever seen.

"The angle of pursuit is never right. I mean, you never take the right angle because of his deception. He's a good player and a big part of their offense."

Teammate De'Arrius Howard said Jones' "bendy, stretchy" legs help him twist and turn his way into big plays. Jones has eight runs of 50 yards or more in his career along with 21 rushing touchdowns and six 100-yard rushing games.

"The one thing that drives a defensive coordinator nuts is, when they have everyone covered and (offensive) things break down, he is able to escape," said Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. "He is able to go off and make a big run, make a big play."

Jones' ever-improving right arm helps keep defenses off-balance.

He set Arkansas career records for touchdown responsibility (66) and total offense (7,100 yards) in back-to-back games against Alabama and Florida this season. Jones also will challenge school records in yards per carry, total plays, completion percentage, touchdown passes and yards per play the rest of the season.

But Jones isn't keeping count.

"I really haven't paid attention much," Jones said. "Somebody will usually come up to me and tell me I broke a record or did something and I didn't really know if I was close to it or about to break it.

"It's something cool. It's fun. But I really don't know until after it's happened."

Jones needs 58 more rushing attempts to challenge former Auburn running back and Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson for the SEC record in yards per carry. He is averaging 6.5 yards on 342 carries, but must have 400 attempts to land on the list. Jackson averaged 6.6 from 1982-85.

But Jones is the last player who would tuck the ball and take off running to inch closer to records and said he'd trade wins for any of them. He didn't know about Bond's rushing record until this season, but admitted it would be an honor to climb past the Mississippi State quarterback and into the SEC record books.

"The SEC has had a lot of great quarterbacks, but haven't really had a lot of running quarterbacks in the last couple years," Jones said.

"I think it will be cool to have, but records are made to be broken."

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