By D. Orlando Ledbetter
COLUMBIA, Mo. – Georgia all-American linebacker Jarvis Jones, playing with a sore groin, came up with two big plays to help the Bulldogs rout Missouri in their first game in Southeastern Conference play.
Jones helped to blow the game open with an interception and a sack in the fourth quarter that led to 14 points in the 41-20 victory on Saturday. He finished with 8 tackles, one sack, a forced fumble and an interception.
The Bulldogs held a 27-20 lead with under nine minutes to play when Jones intercepted a pass at Missouri’s 22 and rumbled down to the 1-yard line. It was the first interception of his career
On the ensuing play, running back Todd Gurley scored a touchdown.
On Missouri’s next possession, Jones sacked Missouri quarterback James Franklin and caused a fumble. Jordan Jenkins recovered the ball at Missouri’s 5-yard line.
Three plays later, Ken Malcome scored on a 6-yard touchdown run.
“He may be the best defensive player in American,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said.
The Bulldogs were not sure how much Jones would be able to play against the Tigers.
“I’ll be honest with you, he strained his groin in the middle of the week and he couldn’t really move around very good by Wednesday,” Richt said. “We were just hoping that he’d be able to go. It was bothering him the whole game.
“It’s hard to believe that, but he sucked it up and played the whole time. He made the very big plays when we needed them the most.”
Jones did not think about not playing in the team’s SEC opener.
“A lot of guys out there look up to me,” Jones said. “I just had to go the extra mile. I have to push myself and push them so that we can be so much better.”
Jones was startled that Franklin threw the ball to him. He was spying on the quarterback and wasn’t supposed to drop into coverage. But once he realized that Franklin was not going to run, his instincts took over.
“I read the quarterback’s eyes and he threw it straight to me,” Jones said.
The Tigers had trouble finding Jones, because defensive coordinator Todd Grantham kept moving him around.
“He can do multiple things,” Grantham said. “We can move him around so that they can’t get a bead on him. You are just trying to get him in one-on-one matchups and when you do that, he makes plays.”
On the sack-strip, Jones beat his man and made the big play.
“He’s a pretty explosive guy,” Grantham said. “The position that he plays is going to allow him to make some plays. The kid works hard and prepares. He’s really smart and instinctive.”
The Bulldogs were trailing 17-9, but with the aid of some timely passing and Jones’ big plays, they went on to outscore the Tigers 32-3 over the finals 26 minutes of action.
“We just went out there and played until the end of the game,” Jones said. “The game is four quarters. Mizzou had their big plays. They threw their punches, but you have to play the whole game.”
Jones’ big plays helped out the offense that sputtered at times against the Tigers.
“He’s spectacular,” quarterback Aaron Murray said. “There is no one in the country who can block him. He’s just an unbelievable player. … There is no way to describe how hard he works and what kind of player that he is.”
Jones also drew some inspiration from the pundits.
“ESPN picked us to get upset,” Jones said. “No matter what people say, at the end of the day we have to get out on the field. They’ve got to walk out on the field. We have to walk out on the field. Football is a man’s game. At the end of the day, it’s a man’s game.”
Jones didn’t want to take any shots at the Tigers defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who said Georgia played “old man” football.
“They understand now,” Jones said. “We don’t have to send no message. We won. But let’s not take anything away from them; they are a good ball club. They play hard. They are a well-organized program, but this is SEC football.”