With Jones, you never knew what was coming. There was no play --- brilliant or dumb, exhilarating or devastating --- the ultra-fast signal-caller couldn't pull off. Jones was the kind of player who would put Nutt and the whole Arkansas football family in touch with painful good news-bad news dichotomies such as this one:
The good news: Matt Jones led Arkansas within one single play of beating mighty Texas last year. After 59 minutes of gallant, swashbuckling play, Jones had Arkansas in the Longhorn red zone, one safe third-down play from setting up a fourth-down field goal that would have likely given the Hogs a 23-22 win over a team that eventually won the Rose Bowl.
The bad news: Matt Jones led Arkansas within one single play of beating mighty Texas last year. After 59 minutes of gallant, swashbuckling play, Jones had Arkansas in the Longhorn red zone, one safe third-down play from setting up a fourth-down field goal that would have likely given the Hogs a 23-22 win over a team that eventually won the Rose Bowl.
You see, Jones --- on that third-down play in the Texas red zone --- fumbled. He failed to protect the ball when the only goal of that play was nothing other than to protect the football. Yes, a touchdown would have been nice, but the one absolutely essential goal of that third-down play was to protect the ball at all possible costs. Nothing else TRULY mattered, but Jones --- as he was wont to do --- made a big blunder in a vital situation. No amount of coaching (remember, Jones was a senior last year; just how much could you tell him in a situation like that?) could honestly, legitimately, have prevented that from happening. That was simply life for Houston Nutt with Matt Jones. He couldn't live without him, but in moments of truth, Nutt couldn't live with him, either. That's just the way it was.
Now, with Jones gone, Nutt has a chance to recapture late-90s lightning in a bottle. As the offensive coordinator for his team, Nutt gets to truly structure offenses and game plans this time, instead of depending on Jones to improvisationally lift the Hogs out of the barbecue-pit fire. Accordingly, the other 10 players on Arkansas' offensive unit might do more within a classic offensive framework, and thereby do less of the standing around and watching that inevitably took place to a certain degree while Jones did his things (both good and bad).
Nutt is under pressure to get playmaking potency and scoring punch from his offense, especially against a fire-breathing defense like Auburn and, outside the conference schedule, USC's juggernaut offense. But that pressure might be accompanied by a profound sense of liberation, as Nutt is not really hostage to one player as we was for the past four years with Jones, a delightful yet maddening player to watch.
There will be plenty of times in 2005 when Houston Nutt wishes he had Matt Jones on the field to make plays. But if Arkansas' Boss Hog does things right, he'll find even more instances in which he's glad he can structure an offense around a quarterback who might not dazzle, but who will efficiently run an offense. It just might give the Hogs a lift in an SEC West that's loaded with question marks.