Game Jones Kept Hogs Close

A half-hour before Saturday night's kickoff against Georgia, Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones worked the first-team offense near the north end zone.



Receiver Cedric Washington patted his back as coach Houston Nutt watched closely, analyzing Jones' every move.

With fall colors hanging from branches all around Razorback Stadium and a clear, blue sky overhead, Georgia assistants clustered at midfield paid close attention, too. Before the Hogs went back into their locker room, Jones walked to the Arkansas 40-yard line, where quarterbacks coach Roy Wittke met him. Jones, who suffered a pulled groin muscle on the first play of last weekend's 38-20 loss at Auburn, responded to Wittke with pronounced nods.

"I didn't know. We didn't know," said Jones of whether he could go. "It was a game-time decision. We went out there and did some pregame stuff and I told coach Wittke I was ready to go, so I went."

The two biggest questions in this nook of the nation this week: 1) Will Jones, the senior who had accounted for 68 touchdowns in his career, be able to play effectively through the pain?, and, 2) Will it make any difference against the 10th-ranked Bulldogs?

The answers for three-and-a-half quarters were "yes" to both of the above as Jones and a hard-hitting, aggressive and opportunistic defense (two fumble recoveries, one returned for a touchdown by Marcus Harrison, three Jeb Huckeba sacks and a load of no gain or lost yardage plays for Georgia) hung around with Georgia leading only 17-14 with about eight minutes left to play.

"Man, he's magic when he's out there," Huckeba said.

But Gerald Anderson grabbed Jones around the Arkansas 10-yard line and David Pollack creamed him, forcing the ball from Jones and recovering it on the Arkansas 8.

Georgia kicked a field goal and, with Jones on the sideline for the remainder, the Hogs had no shot as the Bulldogs went on to a 20-14 win.

Jones gamely managed 21 yards rushing (he had 44, but was dragged down for 23 yards of losses), including a 36-yard left sideline romp. He also completed 12 of 19 passes for 181 yards with a 7-yard TD strike to Marcus Monk on the Hogs' second series.

"We knew Matt Jones was going to play," Pollack said. "You don't sit a guy like that on the bench."

After he was sacked, Huckeba asked if Jones would be able to go on the next series.

"He said, ‘No, there's no way,'" Huckeba said. "And you know there's no way when Matt says that because he's the type of guy that's gonna be out there (even) if he has to hobble around."

He did. By the second quarter, Jones looked gimpy. He was dropping super deep in the pocket both on passes and after handoffs to avoid any sort of unnecessary contact. Like in last week's game, Nutt said he felt severely limited in what the Hogs could do because of Jones' condition.

It got progressively worse. Before the first series of the second half, Arkansas trainers wrapped the top of Jones' left leg with what looked like miles of gauze. After the sack, he had a pulled hamstring. Jones tried to stay loose by riding a stationary bike between series and at halftime, but the pain just kept coming.

"I thought he was pretty close (to 100 percent) at the beginning," Nutt said. "But as the game went on, after the half, he wasn't the same. He got a little tighter and then when he pulled a hamstring, slightly pulled it, that just added to it."

Nutt considered tossing out redshirt freshman quarterback Robert Johnson earlier, but held off until after the sack.

"Thought about it," Nutt said. "But (Jones) was still saying he was OK, so we had to go with him as long as he could go."

Said Jones of his pain before Pollack's sack: "It was happening before then, then that play just kind of aggravated it. It was going to be like any time I had to make a break or anything, I knew it was going to happen. And the way we were having to move around with our quarterbacks today, I thought Robert gave us a better chance."

Johnson took over on the last two series, but never had a chance. He gained 11 yards on four carries and missed his only two pass attempts, the last one on fourth-and-10 from the Arkansas 16 when he missed a wide-open Steven Harris at about the 35 with 1:55 left.

Receiver Chris Baker tossed his helmet under an Arkansas bench, plopped down and shook his head. At first, Johnson sat alone on another bench.

Running back Kyle Dickerson joined him as did injured running back Dedrick Poole. Left guard Robert Felton tossed his helmet, too, as backup quarterback Dowell Loggains consoled Johnson.

Jones limped over, put his arm around Johnson and spoke in his ear for quite some time.

"Hopefully," said Jones, "we'll be all right by South Carolina."

That's two weekends away, and the bet here is Jones will be on and running in Columbia.




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