JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Lost in all the talk about Georgia’s “soft defense” this week is one rather glaring fact: The Bulldogs have been playing with — and sometimes without — a banged-up Jarvis Jones.
The junior All-American has not been healthy since the second play of the Missouri game in Week 2, when he said he aggravated a groin injury he had suffered earlier that week. He’s also playing with a sore left knee, which he protects with a bulky brace, and an ankle injury suffered in the fourth quarter of the Oct. 6 South Carolina game.
As a result, Jones has missed a ton of practice time, two full games and a significant portion of others.
“I’ve just been getting a lot of treatment,” said Jones, who returned to practice this week in preparation for the Gators. “I’ve just been working really hard, coming over here (to the training room) in the morning, in the afternoon and at night. “I’m just trying to take care of my body and push myself to be in the best position possible so, when Saturday comes, I’ll be able to give my team all I have.”
Jones was definitely giving his all the last time he came down to Jacksonville to play Florida. In the Bulldogs’ 24-20 win last year, the 6-foot-3, 241-pound outside linebacker recorded four sacks, five tackles and forced a fumble. The nationally-televised performance essentially locked up All-America honors for Jones, who went on to lead the SEC in sacks (13.5 and tackles for loss (19.5).
“I made a couple of good plays in that game,” Jones said modestly. “I definitely learned a lot and got better that game. As the season went on, I kept learning and kept getting after it. . . . But it’s all the same for Every game is a big game for me. I go into every game trying to give every thing I’ve got. That’s what I’m going to do when I step on the field Saturday. I’m going to try to help my team any way I can. I try to be relentless every play. That was the way I was able to make plays that game and that’s the way I’ve made plays my whole career. So that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”
Despite his injuries, Jones has remained productive for the Bulldogs. He enters the Florida game as Georgia’s third-leading tackler with 36 stops and leads the team in quarterback sacks (5.5), tackles for loss (9.5) and quarterback hurries (15).
The Bulldogs will be encountering a different offense than they encountered a year ago when Jones was terrorizing gimpy quarterback John Brantley. Under first-year coordinator Brent Pease, formerly of Boise State, the Gators are running the football out of multiple formations and often with the quarterback. Sophomore Jeff Driskel is Florida’s second-leading rusher with 321 yards, a total that rises to nearly more than 400 yards when sacks are not factored.
Having a healthy Jones setting the edge on one side of the defense can only help when it comes to containing the Gators. And he will be going up against the same left tackle he did last year in Xavier Nixon (6-6, 314, sr.),
“I know he’s going to be excited about getting in there and trying to help us win,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said of Jones. “He had a big game a year ago; I’m sure he’d love to have another one. But it’s a little bit different style of offense and a different quarterback. Brantley really wasn’t moving around that good. It wasn’t like it was tough to chase him down once you got there. Driskel is much more mobile and much more physical I think especially since he’s healthy compared to what Brantley was a year ago.”
As for all the “soft” talk regarding Georgia’s defense, Jones just laughs it off. He understood the point Shawn Williams was trying to make and is glad the senior safety spoke up.
“Everybody knows Shawn is a very passionate guy. He’s loves this game of football,” Jones said. “Looking back at last year and this year, it seems like we’re playing down a level and not executing like we’re supposed to. But I feel like that woke a lot of guys up. I think guys understand where he’s coming from and we all definitely respect him. . . . We feel like it was just a challenge for us to go out there and re-focus ourselves and get back on the right track and play the defense we’re known for playing. That’s smash-mouth football.”
Having a healthy Jarvis Jones back in the fold, should help.