Jones Questionable for Auburn Game
Senior quarterback Matt Jones, the key component of the Southeastern Conference's second-best offense, was listed as questionable for Saturday's game against No. 10 Georgia.
Jones sustained a groin injury on the first play from scrimmage during the Hogs' 38-20 loss at Auburn and coach Houston Nutt isn't sure if the senior will heal in time for the Bulldogs. Backup Robert Johnson, who completed 2 of 2 passes for 20 yards in the fourth quarter against the Tigers, took Jones' place under center during Sunday's practice and will handle first-team snaps when workouts resume Tuesday.
Jones will undergo treatment the next few days and the Hogs (3-3, 1-2 in SEC) hope he'll return to the practice field later this week.
"Can you ask me Tuesday?" Nutt said when asked about Jones' status. "The day after is always the sorest. With rehab and treatment, if you ask me that Tuesday, I'll have a pretty good answer for you.
"I don't know. Right now, today, if you're asking me, yes (he's questionable)."
Jones played most of Saturday's game, but his mobility and ability to step into throws was limited. He completed 12 of 27 passes for 189 yards and 2 touchdowns and rushed for 54 yards on 4 attempts, but shied away from other opportunities to run because of his injury.
Nutt considered pulling Jones early in the third quarter in favor of Johnson, but said the quarterback talked him into staying on the field. Nutt finally replaced him with Johnson in the fourth quarter when the Tigers had the game wrapped up.
"He's a tough guy," Nutt said. "We're down 30-0 and he's wanting to play. Nothing makes me believe otherwise that he wouldn't definitely want to play this week. He's a competitor and a winner and I appreciate him wanting to get back on that field and help his teammates."
Jones hasn't been sidelined by an injury during his 42-game career. He was bothered by a chronic sore throwing shoulder earlier in his career, but Jones' mobility has helped him avoid taking punishing hits.
He leads the SEC in total offense (274.3 yards) and is second in passing yards per game (213.2). Jones also is fourth in passing efficiency (140.4) and has completed 86 of 149 passes for 1,279 yards with 9 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.
Johnson said his teammate was pretty stiff Sunday, but won't rule him out of the Georgia game.
"He's going to get treatment two or three times a week," Johnson said. "At the end of the week, he might be good. You never know with Matt."
Quarterbacks coach Roy Wittke said Jones' experience allows the Hogs to take as much time as possible to decide if he'll play.
"With a veteran like him, you don't have to make the decision until later in the week," Wittke said. "That's one of the advantages that we have. He's been in an awful lot of ballgames. He's gotten an awful lot of work over the course of a long period of time. Of course, you'd like to see him get as much work and preparation as he can during the week.
"But we're not going to put him at risk and do what's best for our football team."
Johnson has played well in three appearances, completing 8 of 11 passes for 162 yards and 3 touchdowns without an interception. The redshirt freshman impressed coaches during bowl preparation last season, took most of the first-team snaps the during spring drills and has put in solid work in a backup role this season.
Wittke said true freshman Alex Mortensen would work as Johnson's backup if Jones can't play, but said the Hogs would try to protect his redshirt. Wittke said the Hogs also have the option of using senior Dowell Loggains if necessary.
"Those guys prepare themselves as if they're going to start on a weekly basis anyway," Wittke said. "It shouldn't change anything in the way they get ready.
"Our guys have confidence in (Johnson). They trust him and they believe in him. We expect that he'll be ready and he's going to have to be."
Jones joins a long list of banged up offensive players, including starting right tackle Zac Tubbs (broken ankle), true freshman running back Peyton Hillis (lower back injury) and backup tailback Dedrick Poole (pulled hamstring). Also, starting flanker Steven Harris (bruised knee) and right guard Gene Perry (bruised ribs) will be slowed this week because of injuries.
Nutt said the Hogs won't push Jones on the field Saturday if he's not healthy because there are important games remaining.
After Georgia, Arkansas has a bye week then games against South Carolina, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU. Nutt won't hesitate to sit an injured Jones against the Bulldogs in favor of having him healthy the last month of the season.
"You just don't want to put him out there about 50 percent and he repulls or reinjures and then you don't have him down the stretch," Nutt said. "That's the most critical thing for us as a team.
"To put somebody out there 50 percent or 60 percent, I think that's probably pretty unfair. Especially in this league and the competition you're going against."
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