The outside linebacker thrives most when playing in certain types of games. The criteria for those games: a national stage, a ranked opponent and much more than just a win on the line.
Two of Georgia’s pivotal matchups this year came against Missouri and Florida –– both contests that the Bulldogs went in to facing adversity.
Then-No. 7 Georgia was a two-point favorite over unranked Missouri, largely due to the secondary attrition and the weak defensive output against the Buffalo run attack the game prior. Heading to Jacksonville, the Bulldogs were coming off a narrow win over Kentucky, who to this point has still only won a single game. Any shot of getting back into the national title race would require a win over the archrival Gators.
In both matchups, Jones posted a combined 22 tackles (6.5 for loss), 4 forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, an interception and five sacks.
His production on headlined stages, according to Georgia coach Mark Richt, is a major part of why Jones is nominated for a plethora of national awards, capped with Thursday’s Lott Impact Trophy for the player who has the biggest impact both on and off the field.
“That’s what helped him the most, is that he has played really big in big games,” Richt said. “In the Missouri game he just had a monster stat day and the Florida game was 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.”
That’s because of his performance a season ago, where comparable to this year, Jones was no stranger in big games.
In his first two outings in red and black, Jones finished second in team tackles (17 total) against then-No. 2 Boise State and then-No. 12 South Carolina.
But it was seven weeks later against Florida where Jones had the breakout performance that garnered the national attention that’s been glued to him since. Jones was a ball hawk in Jacksonville, evidenced by his four tackles for loss, four sacks and four quarterback hurries.
Georgia fans are hoping that Jones will have a comparable performance today. Alabama will pose the biggest offensive threat the Bulldogs have seen thus far, ranking second in scoring the SEC to only Texas A&M.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us,” Jones said. “They’re huge and very physical [and have] guys that are passionate about this game. It’s going to be a battle.”
Jones attributes a large portion of the Crimson Tide’s success to quarterback A.J. McCarron, who has thrown only two interceptions and 25 of Alabama’s 61 touchdowns.
McCarron leads Alabama’s pro style offense, a scheme that Georgia hasn’t prepared for in weeks because of its latest opposition. Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech both employ the triple option and have rushed for 608 yards on the Bulldogs over the past two weeks.
Jones has enjoyed the preparation for Alabama because Georgia is back to defending “grown man football.”
“When you start playing teams like Georgia Tech or somebody that’s going to hide the ball from you, I don’t like stuff like that,” Jones said. “Men play football and that’s what we do, we line up and hit each other in the mouth.”