When Jarvis Jones left high school at Carver High School in Columbus, GA., he dreamed of playing for SEC and national championships.
Those dreams are coming true, but not exactly like he thought they would. He thought it would be while playing for the Southern California Trojans in the Pac-10. But things have changed. The Pac-10 is now the Pac-12 and Jones is no longer wearing the Cardinal and Gold at USC. Instead, he is wearing the Red and Black for the Bulldogs.
For the second time in consecutive seasons, Jones will be playing for a conference championship this Saturday. And with a win against Alabama, Jones will get to play for the national championship against Notre Dame.
Jones, a 6-foot-3, 241-pound junior, has been one of the main reasons the Bulldogs have won six consecutive games and have posted an 11-1 overall record. He finished third on the Bulldogs in tackles with 71, but that’s only half the story. Jones has an interception that he returned 21 yards and two passes broken up, but he also has a team-leading 30 quarterback hurries and has forced six fumbles and recovered two.
Jones has been right in the middle of almost every big play turned in by the Georgia defense so far this season, as evidenced by his 10.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for losses of 107 yards. Alabama’s offense will have to account for Jones on every play when it is on offense.
“He’s a very good player,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “You certainly have to have a plan to try and help the players that have to block him, so hopefully he can’t just get in one on one situation where it’s a difficult circumstance for somebody.
“That’s part of the planning that you need to do. There have been games this year where he has made a phenomenal amount of plays, like sacks causing fumbles. The guy is probably one of the best defensive players in the country in terms of his playmaking ability. He’s a really good rusher. He’s physical. He’s instinctive. He’s a really good player.”
Saturday’s SEC Championship Game will be the chance to fulfill a dream for Jones and his teammates.
“It’s just a wonderful opportunity for us. I mean Bulldog Nation to get a chance to play in this game means so much to us. We’re just looking forward to it,” said Jones. “Lotof guys sacrificed a lot, many hours, practices, fighting through injuries and all that stuff just to get to the point where we are today. We’re just grateful for this opportunity.”
The Bulldogs have been on a defensive rampage in the second half of the season. They have given up just 19 points in the last three SEC victories. In those games, the Bulldogs have allowed just 19 points and only one touchdown. They had 11 sacks in the first seven games but 13 in the last five.
Jones is not the only reason for the defensive resurgence but he’s had a hand—a big one — in leading the way. In facing Alabama, the Bulldogs will be facing a conventional offense after two consecutive games of facing a triple-option like they did against Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech.
“A great challenge, a great challenge,” said Jones. “A well respected program from over the nation. They’re capable of doing a lot of things, running, passing the ball. They’ve got tremendous athletes that can take the ball to the house and make big plays when they need to. For us it’s about discipline, and understanding our game plan, and understanding what we’re doing and doing it our best. We’ve got to make plays and get off the field and give our offense a chance to score the ball.”
Jones has an explanation as to why the defense has been better the second half of the season.
“I think we got a couple distractions, couple guys suspended, and people expecting so much out of us. You’re hearing this, you’re hearing that. And I think it took that to get us back to where we are today,” he said. “Things happened. I think we’re playing great ball right now. Guys are focused, and we’re making plays and enjoying our season.”
The Georgia players know what is on the line against Alabama.
“We understand the weight that this game holds. It’s a big challenge for us. I mean, it’s a great opportunity, so we really want to make the best of it,” Jones said. “We’re glad to get to this point. We’ve worked tremendously hard all season, and off season, our focus is to go in here and give it everything we’ve got. We understand if we win this game we’ll play in the title game.”
If the Bulldogs can beat Alabama, they find another elite program in Notre Dame waiting in the BCS Championship Game.
“It doesn’t matter. We only can control what we have and that’s us,” he said. “If we do what we’re supposed to do against anybody, I think we’ve got a great chance of winning. If we do what we’re supposed to do, execute, and make plays, you’ve just got to go out there and play ball no matter who you’re playing.
“I think we’ve got a great group of guys that understand the defense with the help of our coaches. Our coaches took us from just being football players to students of the game and really understanding the concept of our defense and why we do what we do. That’s allowed us to play fast. It’s allowed us to play comfortable and understand where you can be in a defense. Knowing you have that,” he said.
“I love this defense, actually. I think it’s one of the best defenses and a lot of the teams play it. Alabama plays the same defense, and they’re dominant in it as well.”