Arkansas seniors, juniors are in familiar territory now

Updated: October 22, 2003, 3:25 AM ET

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- If attitude reflects leadership, then Arkansas has plenty of candidates to lead it back to victory.

The biggest senior class, 24, in recent memory and 10 juniors have been in this situation in each of the past two seasons.

In 2001, Arkansas responded to starting 1-3 with a six-game winning streak that set up a Cotton Bowl trip.

In 2002, the Razorbacks lost three of four league games before producing another six-game run. That put Arkansas in the Southeastern Conference title game.

This year, it took the Razorbacks (4-2, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) three weeks to jump from unranked to No. 7 in the country after victories over Texas and Alabama.

Now, they're one loss from dropping out of the poll in the same time frame.

Elite teams don't lose back-to-back at home, but that's happened twice in two years for Houston Nutt's Razorbacks. Auburn and Florida duplicated what Alabama and Kentucky did a year ago.

Nutt pointed to his biggest senior class as a guiding light for this year's team. They had been in the battles and knew how to win.

However, in the 10-3 Auburn loss, senior wide receiver and co-captain George Wilson committed two holding penalties that took away big plays. The last one wiped out a 78-yard tying touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Against Florida, senior free safety Tony Bua made helmet-to-helmet contact with quarterback Chris Leak, negating an interception and a chance to drive for a winning touchdown.

Nutt said Arkansas was just a few plays away from being 6-0, which would have put it close to the top five of the Bowl Championship Series poll that was released Monday.

If the Razorbacks were playing smarter, that might have happened.

Nutt also told reporters this week he would continue to use both quarterbacks Matt Jones and Ryan Sorahan.

He said that Jones, the starter, gains valuable insight into what's happening during the game when he's on the sideline watching Sorahan.

Yet, in Saturday's loss to Florida, CBS cameras showed Jones lounging on the bench without his helmet on and looking the other way when the offense was on the field. He was nowhere near offensive coaches signaling in plays.

Color commentator Todd Blackledge, a former Penn State and NFL quarterback, criticized Jones' apparent disregard.

"I think as a leader and as a quarterback, he needs to be down there with the action, paying attention to what's going on," Blackledge said.

Jones didn't talk to reporters after the game because his father Steve Jones thought his son wasn't treated fairly by the media leading up to the Florida game.

The junior had the best statistical game of his career, completing 20 of 30 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns. However, he threw two interceptions for the second time in three games.

He also continued a trend pointed out by Blackledge.

Since the 2001 Auburn game, Arkansas is 15-1 when Jones throws the ball 16 times or less, but 2-7 when he's asked to throw more than that.

To Jones' credit, the Razorbacks fell behind early in all seven of those losses, which took him and the Arkansas offense away from their strength of running the football.

Jones has never thrown more passes in back-to-back games than the 58 he did against Auburn and Florida. He likely will have to continue that trend this week, testing a shoulder that wore down last year because of a loose joint.

Running back Cedric Cobbs pulled a hamstring and De'Arrius Howard sprained an ankle against Florida. If they can't go this week, fullback Mark Pierce and wide receiver DeCori Birmingham will take their places.

Arkansas played Ole Miss at the most dismal time possible in 2002.

The home loss to Kentucky dropped the Razorbacks to 3-3 overall and 1-3 in the SEC, but the worst news came two days later.

Defensive co-captain Jermaine Brooks was arrested on drugs and weapons charges for selling marijuana out of his apartment near campus. A stunned and saddened Nutt kicked the senior off the team.

Brooks was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but he was released on Aug. 30 after participating in a four-month boot camp program. He's on probation until March 26, 2013.

An already depleted defensive line got thinner, but the Razorbacks figured to miss Brooks' leadership more than anything.

Arkansas responded with a 48-28 victory over the Rebels and the season turned around.

Nutt's teams have a habit of responding when hope starts fading and things look bleak.

Arkansas is coming off two disappointing losses in which seniors played a key role.

Birmingham and Pierce are quality players, but the SEC's top running game will suffer without Cobbs and Howard.

The Razorbacks held Auburn's Carnell Williams to one touchdown one week before he rushed for six against Mississippi State, but it let Leak, a freshman, further build his confidence.

That wasn't a good way to prepare for Eli Manning, the SEC's top quarterback at 303.9 yards passing per game.

Hope is fading. Things look bleak.

If another Razorbacks turnaround under Nutt is forthcoming, this is the week.

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Douglas Pils covers the Arkansas Razorbacks for The Associated Press.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index