QB Matt Jones

2003 Statistics

Coach: Houston Nutt
48-27, 6 years
2003 Record: 9-4
at Texas WON 38-28
at Alabama WON 34-31
at Mississippi LOST 7-19
at Kentucky WON 71-63
at Louisiana State LOST 24-55
Missouri WON 27-14

2003 Final Rankings
AP-UR, Coaches-UR, BCS-UR

2004 Outlook

When Houston Nutt spurred Nebraska's $2.5 million offer to remain at Arkansas, Razorback fans breathed a collective sigh of relief. The rest of the college football world was left asking why? Why return to a program that loses 25 seniors and more early NFL Draft entries than anyone in the country? Why return to coach in one of the nation's toughest conferences with only four starters combined returning on offense and defense? Why return after an off-season that saw eligibility issues raised for star quarterback Matt Jones concerning an evangelistic website, another potential starter suspended indefinitely after a DWI, and the realization that University imposed sanctions will continue to take away scholarships this season and next?

Looking at a five-year plan, there would be much to celebrate in Fayetteville: Houston Nutt's contract extension, the continued rise in attendance at the renovated Razorback Stadium, and a top-25 recruiting class. College football fans, however, are rarely that patient, which could make for an uncomfortable year for coach Nutt. Following an SEC West title with a nine-win season and a bowl game victory was somewhat of a disappointment after the Hogs rose to seventh in the polls. What will be the reaction if Arkansas misses out on a bowl for the first time in Nutt's tenure? The recipe is all there: a record number of NFL early entrants for a school still missing two scholarships per year, inexperience all over the field, and the potential for one of two injuries to decimate either side of the ball. Yet where there is talent and good coaching, inexperience, especially at this level, can be overcome. Matt Jones should flat out will the Razorbacks to at least two upsets considering that Arkansas may not be favored in any conference game all season.

The closest thing to a crystal ball for the 2004 Razorbacks might be the rocky five-loss season of the 2002 Florida Gators. That was a team with a standout veteran signal caller in Rex Grossman surrounded by inexperience, which led to some incredible highs and lows. Don't be surprised to see the talented freshman step up and contend with the Longhorns or LSU, only to melt down against Mississippi State on the road. With seven of eleven games at home, the young Hogs will avoid the hostility of Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa; nevertheless, lose four in a row and they might be begging for a road game. The maturation process of the few experienced juniors and seniors will be critical, especially on defense. This may be the toughest rebuilding season of Houston Nutt's career in which avoiding the SEC West cellar deserves a toast. Six wins and a bowl game would be worthy of National Coach of the Year honors. Yet, it was Nutt who declared about 2004, "I've never felt better." If only Hog fans could say the same.

Projected 2004 record: 4-7
QB - 3.5 DL - 4
RB - 4 LB - 3
WR - 2 DB - 1.5
OL - 2.5 ..

Passing: Matt Jones, 230-132-7, 1917 yds., 18 TD

Rushing: Matt Jones, 96 att., 707 yds., 8 TD

Receiving: Steven Harris, 19 rec., 315 yds., 1 TD

Scoring: Chris Balseiro, 11-15 FG, 40-41 PAT, 73 pts.

Punting: Jacob Skinner, 52 punts, 39.9 avg.

Kicking: Chris Balseiro, 11-15 FG, 40-41 PAT

Tackles: Sam Olajubutu, 85 tot., 45 solo

Sacks: Elliott Harris, 2 sacks

Interceptions: Lerinezo Robinson, 2 for 24 yds.

Kickoff returns: Cedric Washington, 25 ret., 19.9 avg.

Punt returns: Decori Birmingham, 7 ret., 12.7 avg.


DE Jeb Huckeba
OFFENSE: Bo Lacy-OT, Jerry Reith-OG, Dan Doughty-C, Mark Bokermann-OT, George Wilson-WR, Richard Smith-WR, Ryan Sorahan-QB, Cedric Cobbs-TB, Matt Pierce-FB (NFL), Shawn Andrews-OT (NFL), Jason Peters-TE (NFL)
DEFENSE: Justin Scott-DE, Scott Davenport-NG, Caleb Miller-SLB, Jimarr Gallon-WLB, Lawrence Richardson-CB, Eddie Jackson-CB, Jimmy Beasley-ROV, Marvin Jackson-CB, Ahmad Carroll-CB (NFL)

Houston Nutt's remarkable optimism has him feeling upbeat about this season, assuming he has senior Matt Jones under center. After nearly following four of his classmates to the NFL Draft, the 6'5" Jones will bring his athleticism back to Fayetteville as the sole senior on the youngest offense in the conference. In 2003, Jones was second only to 1,000-yard rusher Cedric Cobbs on the squad with 707 rushing yards. Having thrown a last-minute touchdown to win the 2002 SEC West title and led a seven-overtime victory, no one should question Jones' ability to rise to the/any challenge/occasion. The part-time hoopster will be on the hardwood instead of the football field come spring practice, but, if anything, the time away from the gridiron should benefit his ailing shoulder which plagued him each of the last two seasons. His speed, accounting for an astonishing 7.4 yards-per-carry, allows for improvisation in the backfield and the potential for the big play that will be needed if the Hogs are to resemble the unit that led the SEC in total offense. If the injury bug bites Matt Jones, there will be a mad scramble to replace him with one of two redshirt freshman, either Landon Leach who just resumed throwing after shoulder surgery, or Robert Johnson, whose arm strength is offset by his lack of poise and (so far) decision making ability.

Running Back
Rushing the football effectively has been the cornerstone of success for Arkansas during the Nutt era. The Razorbacks have consistently ranked among NCAA and league rushing leaders including garnering back-to-back SEC rushing titles (2002-03) and consecutive 1,000-yard backs Fred Talley and Cedric Cobbs. Despite the loss of the talented Cobbs, the outlook for the always-punishing Arkansas running game is not as grim as it could be thanks to the move from WR to TB by DeCori Birmingham last season. After injuries to Cobbs and fellow junior TB DeArrius Howard, Birmingham stepped in for 196 yards in his first career start. He snared the SEC West clinching TD pass in 2002. The combination of the 5'11 Birmingham and the powerful Howard, who entered 2003 on the Doak Walker watch list before an ankle sprain derailed his productivity, provides the 1-2 punch to ensure Arkansas remains among the SEC leaders in rushing. The early NFL departure of FB Mark Pierce finally grants junior Brandon Kennedy a chance for full-time fullback responsibilities. The past two seasons, Kennedy has seen spot duty utilized mainly as a blocking back. In fact, last season he earned only one carry for five yards. Junior Kyle Dickerson is another option at FB. Although listed on the depth chart as a TB, Dickerson has the ability to play both positions, at least until highly touted recruit
Peyton Hillis works himself onto the field.

Wide Receiver
For an offense that averaged under 200 yards passing per game, the lack of experience at wideout could be the Razorback's offensive (and therefore team) downfall in 2004. Among the expected receiver corps, only senior Steve Harris and sophomore Chris Baker had more receptions than Matt Jones. Yes, that Matt Jones, the quarterback. The Hogs lack a reliable playmaker to stretch the defense so the 5'11" Harris must build on his 16.8 yards-per-reception average and become the go-to guy. Still, Jones will need a more physical receiver over the middle when teams crowd eight and nine in the box, meaning that either the 6'2" Baker or one of three incoming freshman standing 6'5" or taller will serve as the possession receiver. The X-factor is speedy sophomore David Thompson, whose rapid recovery from a torn ACL should jump him into a starting role.

Offensive Line and Tight End
First the good news: all the expected starters are already on campus and should start to gel. Now the bad news: The top seven linemen on the depth chart combine for all of two career starts, both by junior RT Zac Tubbs. Coach Nutt has said he's got some great offensive lineman who are only missing the reps, which is something akin to saying you've got some great sprinters who are only missing feet. Tubbs has the potential to adequately fill in right away for All-American Shawn Andrews. Yet, despite the ages of senior RG Gene Perry and juniors Kyle Roper and Tony Ugoh, the only certainty on the line is that there will be growing pains. The unexpected departure of monster TE Jason Peters for the NFL leaves a 320lb hole for junior Jared Hicks to fill. Matt Jones should not expect a paltry eleven sacks allowed again or a 237.1 per game average on the ground. Even with simplified blocking schemes, much of the "success" of the O-line will fall on Jones' ability to buy time with his legs and the backs' ability to make something out of nothing.

Houston Nutt has talked about opening up the offense. But with question marks at every position other than quarterback, play-calling will be even more conservative. Matt Jones' health is a must. If he does not take every snap, what is already a run-oriented offense will become too one-dimensional to effectively function. Jones' arm and legs keep defenses honest, which should be just enough for a ball-control approach to be effective, even if the Hogs are nowhere near leading the SEC in total offense again.


RB DeCori Birmingham


Returning Starters/
Key Players
QB Matt Jones-Sr (6-6, 237) Robert Johnson-Fr (6-2, 205)
Landon Leach-Fr (6-2, 190)
FB Brandon Kennedy-Jr (6-0, 230) Justin Slaughter-Jr (6-1, 245)
TB Decori Birmingham-Jr (5-11, 200) De'Arrius Howard-Jr (6-0, 225)
Kyle Kickerson-Jr (5-9, 202)
WR Steven Harris-Sr (5-11, 182) Chris Baker-So (6-1, 185)
David Thompson-So (6-2, 201)
WR Carlos Ousley-Jr (6-0, 186) Cedric Washington-So (6-0, 186)
TE Jared Hicks-Jr (6-6, 271) Mason Templeton-Fr (6-7, 252)
OT Tony Ugoh-Jr (6-5, 288) Matt Gilbow-Fr (6-6, 300)
OG James Johnson-Jr (6-5, 287) Stephen Parker-So (6-3, 312)
C Kyle Roper-Jr (6-2, 297) Skye Peterson-So (6-2, 295)
OG Gene Perry-Sr (6-3, 298) Robert Felton-Fr (6-4, 335)
OT Zac Tubbs-Jr (6-6, 358) Nate Garner-Fr (6-6, 324)
K Chris Balseiro-Jr (6-1, 215) David Carlton-Sr (6-1, 189)



Defensive Line
Favorably, Arkansas should be able to compensate for a weak secondary by pressuring teams in the backfield without having to blitz. The Hogs return three seniors who have garnered starting experience on the line, anchored by tackle Arrion Dixon who will make a run at first-team All-SEC with his ability to plug the middle. Arrion did not particpate through spring because he had shoulder surgery. In Dixon’s absence, senior Titus Peebles and Pressley made their respective claims on playing time. Dixon frees up room for DE Jeb Huckeba on the corner. His 14 tackles-for-loss led the Hogs, while bookend Elliot Harris tied for the team lead in sacks. But this is a crew that only earned 14 sacks and allowed four yards per try on the ground in '03, so experience has to be their key for improvement. With one other senior, two juniors and four sophomores returning in the rotation, plus the addition of physical specimens like blue-chipper Fred Bledsoe, Ernest Mitchell (6-2, 280) and Marcus Harrison (6-3, 285), depth at defensive line will be a Hog strength.

Because defensive coordinator Dave Wommack runs a 4-3 (which often becomes a 4-2-5 scheme), whoever is out on the field at linebacker had better make plays. In junior MLBs Clarke Moore and Sam Olajubuto, the coaching staff is confident they have the versatile playmakers to constantly shake up their defensive looks. Despite Moore's injury problems and Olajubuto's one-game DWI suspension, there is no doubting their multi-dimensional talents that allow them to drop into coverage as well as they stop the run. The Hogs also boast some experienced hands at the sam linebacker spot. Sophomore Desmond Sims played in all 13 games a year ago, including earning the start in three contests. The Razorbacks could use some big play out of backup Pierre Brown. He has the height, weight, speed and all the numbers that add up to being a good linebacker. Coaches will audition new candidates for the outside linebacker spot this spring. Junior John Jackson started at that position near the end of the 2003 season, but will not participate in spring drills following an indefinite suspension. His status for the fall campaign has not yet been determined. Senior Marcus Whitmore and junior Michael Robinson appear to be the top candidates to compete for the open position. Though the D-line may have more potential studs, there is just as much depth at linebacker, allowing Wommack to continually cycle in fresh bodies and shore up the SEC's seventh best rushing defense, which often looked worn down late in '03 games.

Defensive Back
Before signing day, no one could fault coach Nutt for worrying about a "too few men on the field" penalty considering the numbers he was staring at in his secondary: six scholarship players for a team that typically employs five DBs. Last year’s starters Tony Bua, Ahmad Carroll, Lawrence Richardson and Jimmy Beasley spent the off-season working out for pro scouts rather than preparing for spring practice. That means that all four secondary spots are open for the taking. After picking up nine recruits in the secondary, the Hogs can cancel the school-wide tryouts. Still, they will be left wondering what they have until these players get their proverbial feet wet. Of the six returnees, three are redshirt freshmen with no game experience, though the reputation of safety Kevin Woods as a big hitter has extended beyond the practice fields. Only juniors Lerinezo Robinson and Vickiel Vaughn have seen spot duty at safety.
In order to keep all of the young talent on the field, Robinson should move to one corner to pair with junior college transfer Darius Vinett, who has the blazing speed to be a shut-down corner. Redshirt freshman Michael Coe exhibited such intelligent, mistake-free play in practice that he could join them at free safety. Look for Coe to nail down one of the open corner spots however. A pair of redshirt freshmen are listed atop the depth chart at boundary cornerback...Chris Houston and Marcus Slaughter have yet to play a down of college football. Houston will get every opportunity to lay claim to that starting spot. As stated above, opposing quarterbacks cannot have time to throw, or this young group can/will get burned early and often.

In the Bear Bryant era, maybe the Hogs could get away with their glaring problems at secondary. Unfortunately, they play in today's pass-happy SEC, where, no matter how good this D-line plays, offensive sophistication means foes will feast on the Razorbacks inexperience. As with the offensive line, defensive looks will be simplified to allow the incoming freshmen not to be subject to man coverage. Hog fans will mourn the early departures of CBs Ahmad Carroll and Lawrence Richardson when these true freshmen are getting torched downfield. Accordingly, the D-line will become frustrated when the Razorbacks struggle to stop the pass on third down. It will be a learning experience that will only go smoothly if the juniors and seniors embrace roles as leaders, rather than simply playmakers. Hard lessons have to become building blocks, or such frustrations will impact 2004's win/loss totals. Finishing in the top half of the SEC in total defense would be a true accomplishment.


DT Arrion Dixon


Returning Starters/
Key Players
DE Elliott Harris-Sr (6-4, 267) Reggie Banks-Jr (6-4, 275)
DT Arrion Dixon-Sr (6-4, 293) Titus Peebles-Sr (6-2, 295)
NG Jeremy Harrell-So (6-2, 291) Keith Jackson-So (6-0, 286)
DE Jeb Huckeba-Sr (6-5, 248) Wes Murphy-Jr (6-3, 260)
SLB Desmond Sims-So (6-2, 225) Pierre Brown-Jr (6-0, 226)
MLB Clarke Moore-Jr (6-2, 246) Sam Olajubutu-Jr (5-9, 224)
WLB Marcus Whitmore-Sr (6-0, 224) Michael Robinson-Jr (6-2, 220)
CB Michael Coe-So (6-1, 177) John Johnson-So (5-10, 192)
CB Chris Houston-Fr (5-11, 180) Marcus Slaughter-Fr (5-10, 180)
ROV Lerinezo Robinson-Jr (6-0, 191) Dionis Harvey-Jr (6-0, 190)
FS Vickiel Vaughn-Jr (6-0, 202) Kevin Woods-Fr (5-10, 191)
P Jacob Skinner-So (6-3, 202) ..




Amazingly, Arkansas returns as many starters on special teams as they do on either offense or defense. Junior Chris Balseiro will enter as the starter after his FG accuracy (63.6%) jumped him over senior David Carlton who struggled at 40%. Neither has a great leg, but inside the 40, the experience will pay off.

Sophomore Jacob Skinner should have the job locked up after averaging over 40yds per punt. One of the better kickoff and punt coverage units in the SEC will be solid with the team's infusion of youth.

Return Game
Cedric Washington resumes his kick-return duty after finishing in the top ten in the SEC (as only a true freshman!). His explosiveness makes him a candidate to fill in on punt-returns as well, though, if DeCori Birmingham can handle the additional load, he would be ideal considering his experience in that role during his first two seasons.