ATHENS — Georgia’s Jarvis Jones received his first All-America award of the season on Wednesday and second in as many years from the American Football Coaches Association. And that, coach Mark Richt said, is because of how he has played in games like the Bulldogs will play on Saturday.
The No. 3-ranked Bulldogs will face No. 2 Alabama in the SEC Championship game on Saturday. The 4 p.m. CBS broadcast is expected to be one of the most heavily-viewed college football games on television this fall.
That tends to be when Jones plays his best.
“That’s what has helped him the most; he has played really big in big games,” Richt said Jones’ penchant for attracting national awards. “ He played big in the Missouri game as far as a monster stat day and the Florida game was really almost a whole season in one game as far as statistics go. Plus, he already had a reputation of being a really good football player.”
In the nationally-televised, 41-20 win over Missouri on Sept. 8, Jones had nine tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and an interception. Against then-No. 2 Florida on Oct. 27, Jones had 13 tackles, 3 sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries.
Other than two sacks against Auburn, Jones has been relatively quiet since. It didn’t help that Georgia’s last two opponents were Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech.
“Playing the two option football teams at the end made it very difficult to get a sack,” Richt said. “The position he plays, unless you’re a middle linebacker it’s tough to get a lot of tackles against that kind of a scheme.”
But Jones loves playing against a pro-style scheme such as the one the Bulldogs will see from Alabama on Saturday. The Crimson Tide, led by quarterback AJ McCarron and a big, veteran offensive line, are one of the most prolific offenses in the SEC. But Jones much prefers playing a team of their ilk.
“I like games like this because it’s football; there ain’t no trickery in it,” said Jones, who is second in the SEC with 10.5 sacks. “They’re going to line up and it’s going to be grown man football. They’re going to hit you in the mouth and I like stuff like that.”
Depending on how Jones does on Saturday, he’s likely to be receiving many more awards. In fact, he’s a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Rotary Lombardi, Bednarik and Butkus awards and a semifinalist for the Lott IMPACT Award. As a result Jones will be traveling all over the country for awards banquets in the weeks following the SEC championship.
“Busy week next week,” he said. “I’ll be everywhere from Charlotte to Houston to Orlando. I think I may end up going to L.A. (for the Lott Award). I’ve got to look at my schedule. I’m not sure where all I’m going.”
Jones, a 6-3, 241-pound outside linebacker from Columbus, has missed two games due to minor injuries. He has 71 tackles, including 19.5 tackles for loss of 107 yards and 10.5 sacks, one interception, six forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in only 10 games this season. He is the current NCAA active leader in sacks per game (1.0) with 24 in two seasons and is tied for the lead in tackles for loss (1.6) with 39 through this season and last. Last season Jones led the SEC and tied for fifth nationally with 13.5 sacks to go along with 70 tackles, including 19.5 tackles for loss.
“I’m just very thankful for this opportunity,” Jones said. “Me and my teammates have been grinding for a long time and we’ve still got a long ways to go. I’m just thankful to those guys for getting me to where I am today.”
Georgia held a two-hour practice in jerseys, shorts and helmets Wednesday its third of four practices in Athens in preparation for Saturday’s game.
“I thought the energy level was good, and the scouts did a good job and we competed well during 11-on-11 at the end,” Richt said.
He added that it was better than what he saw Tuesday. “I thought yesterday was kind of, I don’t know, a little sluggish. It was a little misty out there and a little bit wet. I just didn’t think it was as clean. But we were still installing things on Tuesday . . . so I guess it’s not all that unusual for it to not be as sharp as you’d like. But I thought today was real good. I saw some excitement at the end of practice today. I think they were starting to feel it.”
Richt said it’s important for the players to not be overly-excited too early.
“You want to be careful not to play the game midweek,” he said. “I don’t want them to get too emotional right now. I want them to stay in the moment and focus on the process and not let their minds go too far ahead. But you could tell they were starting to feel it and sense it.”
Richt doesn’t think a wet practice Monday and a cold one on Tuesday hindered the Bulldogs’ preparations for playing in the hot and dry confines of the Georgia Dome.
“Ideally it would have been nice to have an indoor thing to practice in and crank the heat up a little bit to try get as close to what it would be in the game, but we don’t have that right now,” Richt said.
Kickers to get early look
SEC Championship participants are required to come to the Georgia Dome for an hour of walk-through time in the facility. But rarely do the teams ever actually practice.
Richt said he’s considering using that time this year to have his young kicking specialists get some work in the indoor environment. The Bulldogs have freshmen at both kicking positions in place-kicker Marshall Morgan and punter Collin Barber.
“That’s something I’m thinking we might do,” Richt said. “I was going to talk to Brad Hutcherson in football ops about our specialists getting in there early. I think that’s one thing that will be worth doing. I don’t think it will be worth going in there and running routes and throw the ball around. We just don’t do that on Friday anyway. If those guys think it would benefit them and we can do it logistically, we might do that.”
This year, Barber is averaging 41.2 yards a punt while Morgan has tallied 78 points on eight field goals and a school record 54 extra points.
Aaron Murray update
Aaron Murray, who has chosen not to talk to media this week, apparently is looking good in practice.
“He was very sharp today, very sharp in pass skeleton, very sharp in 11-on-11 where there is tighter coverage,” Richt said. “If you just practice against the scout team, it’s hard for them to simulate tight coverage. But when you go against our defense, you play more at a game speed with tight coverage and you have to be more precise and your timing has to be really good. He looked really good toward the end of practice.”
Murray was named one of five finalists for the Manning Award as the nation’s top quarterback on Wednesday.
They said it
“You’ve got all these good players playing in a game in four days and you’re asking about a bad one 20 years ago? … The University of Alabama was good to me; I’ve been lucky. But that doesn’t have anything to do with this game.”
— Georgia offensive line coach Will Friend, a two-time All-SEC lineman for Alabama
Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell (bruised shoulder) and cornerback Damian Swann (neck sprain) were kept out of contact again Wednesday. But Richt said “both would have played” had it been a game… . Defensive end Mike Thornton (ankle) is doubtful for Saturday… . Georgia has out-scored opponents 155-27 in the third quarter this season. Alabama is 51-24 in the third quarter but 181-28 in the second. . . . Sophomore wide receiver Michael Bennett said he will be able to participate in the spring practice on a non-contact basis.