Keep Them Guessing

Keep Them Guessing

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas coach Houston Nutt successfully kept the extent of quarterback Matt Jones' hamstring injury quiet last week, assuring anyone who asked that his starter would be full speed for Mississippi State.

But the seventh-year coach took a different approach during his weekly press conference Sunday afternoon.

"I wouldn't ask me this week how Matt's doing because I'm not going to know," Nutt said before the room was opened for questions. "That's the truth."

There's no hiding the fact that Arkansas' playmaker and leading rusher is nursing a strained hamstring as the Razorbacks prepare for the regular-season finale against LSU in Little Rock on Friday. Jones hobbled around against the Bulldogs and was limited to the role of pocket passer, but led Arkansas to a 24-21 win by completing 18 of 27 passes for 215 yards with an interception.

Nutt said Jones will continue to practice on a limited basis and spend most of the week getting treatment while backup quarterback Robert Johnson handles the bulk of first-team repetitions. Much like last week, Nutt made it clear the Hogs won't know how healthy Jones' hamstring is until game time (1:30 p.m., CBS)

"We knew that he wouldn't be 100 percent," Nutt said. "One of the reasons, we wanted to just keep everything quiet is because we would only be guessing to tell you he's going to be 70, he's going to be 80, he's going to be 90 or 100. Nobody knew. Not even (trainer) Dean (Weber). But we knew he wasn't going to be 100 percent.

"So we were going to get to the game, get to Starkville and let's see what happens."

The plan worked against Mississippi State, which spent plenty of time preparing for the option after Jones put together back-to-back 100-yard rushing efforts against South Carolina and Ole Miss. Arkansas ran option plays, called bootlegs and didn't make any noticeable changes to its offense.

The only difference was that Jones never kept the ball or scrambled.

"I think it took the middle of the second quarter for them to say, ‘Hey, this guy ain't running today,'" said Nutt, who thought the decision to keep the injury quiet was the difference in the game. "If you notice even on the bootlegs, he'd pull up real quick and just look to throw.

"So I think by the middle of the second quarter, forget about that, he's not running."

Most of the Hogs were also in the dark about Jones' injury because the coaches didn't bring it up during practices. In fact, receiver Cedric Washington didn't realize there was a problem until he saw Jones getting treatment before the game.

Tailback De'Arrius Howard said it was a strange watching Jones stand in the pocket Saturday, but said the quarterback made some big-time throws. Jones avoiding committing careless mistakes, giving the Hogs a chance to win by spreading the ball around and relying on running backs to carry the rushing load.

"He did a great job of finding open receivers," Harris said. "He couldn't run like he usually does. That just shows the resiliency of Matt."

Nutt believes Arkansas' passing game improves when Jones can't used his 4.4-second speed to take off running. Instead, the immobile quarterback goes through his reads while the pocket collapses around him and gets the ball to receivers.

"When Matt's not 4.4, if you notice, he seems like he manages the game a little better," Nutt said. "Of course, I like him when he's 4.4, don't get me wrong.

"He sets in there and reads the receivers. He goes from one, to the second one, all the way to the dump-off guy."

Jones received treatment on the sidelines when the offense came off the field, got more immediately after the game and didn't feel any worse, which Nutt said was a "big plus." Jones spent time in the training room Sunday and will practice as much work as possible during pass skeleton and fundamental drills this week.

The Razorbacks need their quarterback to recover in time to face LSU, which holds the nation's third-ranked defense (250.2 yards a game). The defending Bowl Championship Series national champions limited Ole Miss to 254 yards during a 27-24 win Saturday night and beat Arkansas 55-24 in Baton Rouge last November.

"We'll see. I probably won't do much in practice all week like I did last week," Jones said after Saturday's game. "Hopefully I'll be all right."

But after last week, Nutt and the Hogs probably won't reveal Jones' status even if they know how healthy he'll be against the Tigers.

"He's got a (strained) hamstring," Nutt said. "The severity of it is, all I know is last Saturday he couldn't run. He couldn't take that first quick step. He's really out there on one leg. It forced him to sit in the pocket.

"We don't know that he won't be 100 percent by Friday. He's not any worse than he was last Sunday. In fact, he may be a little bit better than he was last Sunday."

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