State of The Hogs: Matt's Visit

Clay Henry visited with some folks in Starkville about the visit Arkansas, with Matt Jones, makes there this weekend. Henry is publisher at Hawgs Illustrated. This is his weekly column.

Matt Jones plays his final game against a Mississippi school on Saturday. There will be applause from within that state's borders when he's done.

"Matt's had some great games against some of our schools from Mississippi," said Rockey Felker, the director of football operations at Mississippi State.

"Tell him our whole state knows all about Matt Jones. We'll be glad to see him go."

Some of the applause will be from John Bond, the former Mississippi State star who lost a record to Jones earlier this season.

Bond was the MSU quarterback during the 1980-83 seasons. He amassed 2,280 yards running Emory Bellard's Wishbone, setting the Southeastern Conference rushing record for quarterbacks.

Jones shattered that mark earlier this season. The Arkansas quarterback has 2,538 career rushing yards on 205 fewer carries. Bond averaged 4.0 yards for his career while Jones is at 6.9, an average that would eclipse Bo Jackson's SEC mark of 6.6 if he had 33 more attempts to meet the league's minimum carry mark of 400.

Ever since Jones beat his record, Bond has been hoping to meet the UA signal caller to shake his hand. It appears that will happen before the game Saturday.

"We are working on a plan for that," said Felker, who coached the quarterbacks at Arkansas when Barry Lunney led the Hogs to the 1995 SEC West title. "I think everyone here thinks that would be a neat thing."

Felker has seen plenty of Jones and Bond. He could be the perfect man to compare and contrast the two quarterbacks. And, he has the qualifications, too. Felker led the SEC in total offense when he quarterbacked the 1974 MSU team to an 8-3 record. He was an offensive assistant at Alabama during Bond's days at MSU.

"John and Matt are very similar in some ways," Felker said. "Both are tall, rangy guys that are faster than they look. Neither of them want to run over you, but give 'em a crack and they will out run you. They get to the corner and they have a step on you faster than you think. People take the wrong angles and underestimate their speed.

"They look like they aren't moving that fast, but they are flying. There is no way to prepare or practice for that kind of speed. No one you have is that big and can run that way. So you get in the games and defensive players take bad angles."

Bond ran the true Wishbone for Bellard, the man who made it famous at the college level at Texas and Texas A&M. Bond read the triple option and the counter option and was always under center.

"Matt's different because he's running the option out of the shotgun," Felker said. "I doubt John was ever in the shotgun. John read it at the line. Matt reads it in the backfield.

"Matt has been more successful because he's a better passer. He may not look pretty doing it, but he gets it there. John struggled as a passer and he didn't pass nearly as much as Matt.

"Both of them can make plays. They put pressure on you because you don't expect a quarterback to be able to break containment like that. You lose containment to Matt and it's 50 yards before you know it. These days you don't see a lot of running quarterbacks and that makes Matt even tougher to contain."

Felker, then in private business in Fayetteville, saw Jones play as a prep senior at Fort Smith Northside.

"My son, David, was playing for Fayetteville," Felker said. "Matt was playing quarterback. You could tell he wasn't a polished quarterback, but you could see that running ability. I just couldn't believe the grace he had when he ran the ball. He'd make a move and out run everyone.

"I can remember a lot of coaches couldn't decide if he could play quarterback at this level. Arkansas might have fit in that category, too. That was the word on the street anyway. It didn't take them long to figure out what they had. He's a special athlete and a special player."

Felker calls Jones a playmaker.

"Matt does things you don't coach," Felker said. "You call a play, and he can make something out of it no matter how you cover it. He does it over and over, too. He drives defensive coordinators crazy. He's done it to Ole Miss and he's done it to State. Think about some of the plays he's made against these two schools. You've got that seven overtime game and you think about some of the plays he's made against State.

"I know Arkansas probably has a good young quarterback waiting in the wings, but every defensive coach in the conference will be glad when Matt graduates."

Bond understands all of that. He laughed about Felker's thoughts on his ability as a passer.

"Struggle might be a good word," Bond said. "I saw Rockey play, too. He was a good quarterback, a true field general, but he didn't move too well. He didn't ever try out to be a Soul Train dancer.

"Coach Bellard wouldn't let me throw it much. The passes I threw were play-action and were about three, four or five yards beyond the line. We threw some slants. Every once in awhile, I might get to throw it deep. Coach Bellard subscribed to the theory that three things could happen when you passed and two were bad."

Maybe Bond was too selfish to pass much.

"I wanted to keep it if we ran the option," he said. "I hated to pitch it. I think Matt would agree with me on this, running yards are tougher to come by than passing yards. But he can go either way. I will say that I describe the way he throws it as chunking it. But I have to give it to him. He passes better than I did."

Bond, who lives in Starkville, watched on TV as Jones torched cross-state rival Ole Miss last week. He loved the 72-yard touchdown run. He loved the dunk over the goal posts afterwards, too.

"I thought the dunk was great," Bond said. "Great dunk. He got up. I was worried because my long run was 87 yards against Auburn and I thought he had me. But it wasn't quite that long. I've still got at least one thing on Matt.

"Matt and I are the same in that we both love basketball. That was my first love. I didn't play football until late in my junior high days. The basketball coach was also the football coach and he made me play football.

"My senior year in basketball, we got to the regional finals. We were pretty good. We had all five starters like me, over 6-2, but not quite 6-3. I had 47 slam dunks in 22 games that year. I loved basketball."

Bond knows plenty about Jones. He's been watching him for four years. He realized last year that his record was in jeopardy and knew Jones would smash it this year if he stayed healthy.

"I'm happy for Matt," Bond said. "He's a great athlete and a great player. I look forward to meeting him Saturday."

Bond thought they were going to hook up via electronic media earlier this week.

"I do a sports show for Comcast Cable here in Starkville," Bond said. "I talked with their sports information office and thought Matt was going to be on the TV show with me. It just didn't work out.

"I'd like to shake his hand if it works out where I can Saturday. I'm glad for him. He didn't just break my record. He's ruled."

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