Jones Tries To Continue Dominance Of S. Carolina

FAYETTEVILLE -- It's no wonder that South Carolina coach Lou Holtz raves about Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones so much.

In the last two seasons, Jones has thrown five touchdown passes against the Gamecocks, with no interceptions. Arkansas beat South Carolina 23-0 in 2002 and 28-6 last season.

Even as a freshman, Jones rushed nine times for 42 yards as the Razorbacks edged South Carolina 10-7 in Little Rock.

Holtz has called Jones the most valuable player in the Southeastern Conference.

But if you ask Jones about his production against USC, he modestly deflects the credit.

"Man, what stands out to me about those games is our defense played great and got us the ball in good field position," Jones said. "That gave us the opportunity to make those plays."

Hogs coach Houston Nutt didn't have an answer for why Jones has picked on the Gamecocks so conspicuously.

"Matt has just had great games against them," Nutt said. "South Carolina has had a good defense and they've played great this year. Not until the fourth quarter (in a 43-29 loss to Tennessee) did they struggle last week."

The Gamecocks have slipped from second to fifth in the SEC in total defense, allowing 294.8 yards per game. Arkansas, on the other hand, is third in the league in offense with 415.9 yards per game, even with Jones limited by leg strains the past two games.

Holtz has no doubt prepared for a healthy Jones, although Jones missed the final eight minutes of a 20-14 loss to Georgia two weeks ago.

Roy Wittke, Arkansas' quarterbacks coach, said after Tuesday's practice, "Matt has definitely made a ton of progress. It's nice to see him reacting without thinking or hesitating."

Jones had sprinted away from a pass rush that day and had outrun all the defenders down the sideline.

"You don't have time to think about it," Jones said. "You just do it naturally. But I wasn't running full-speed."

Still, Wittke said, "You could tell against Auburn that Matt did not have the same reaction he showed this week. Whether consciously or subconsciously, he was a little hesitant the last two games. I didn't see that hesitation this week."

Wittke knows Jones must be at his best against the USC defense today.

"South Carolina has a great secondary," Wittke said. "They include their secondary in the running game, and they also break on the ball well. They've got 12 or 14 picks (interceptions) this year. They don't have tremendous speed, but they get in great position to go after the ball."

The Gamecocks have allowed just 127 yards rushing and 167.8 yards passing per contest.

Jones, though, seemed to be looking forward to the challenge.

"We're going to have fun and be ready to go," Jones said. "This isn't a week where we were out there not talking to anybody. We want to finish 4-0 and go to a good bowl game."

Wittke, in his second year at Arkansas, offered his ideas about why Jones has played so well against South Carolina.

"There could be a number of factors," he said. "Our schedule, the timing of when we play South Carolina, the fact that our kids have played well against them. Seeing them every year can help. They have had some turnover on their staff. And maybe later in the year, Matt has been able to get into a rhythm against them."

The Gamecocks, under first-year defensive coordinator Rick Minter, have mostly stayed with the same secondary they listed in preseason, with freshman Ko Simpson and 6-4 senior Jermaine Harris at safeties, junior Jonathan Joseph and sophomore Fred Bennett at cornerback.

While South Carolina played Tennessee last week, the Razorbacks rested.

"Coach Nutt did right not having us practice too much last week," Jones said. "The key for us finishing strong is to stay healthy."

Wittke hopes Jones is part of that health.

"I think you'll see him full-speed on Saturday," he said.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories