Editor’s note: Each day between now and Florida’s Allstate Sugar Bowl date with Louisville, GatorNation will review the season for a key Gators player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at RB Matt Jones.
RB Matt Jones
49 carries for 259 yards and 2 TDs; 3 catches for 10 yards
Role in 2012: After a somewhat slow start, Jones emerged as the top backup to Mike Gillislee. He is third on the team in carries and rushing yards and finished the regular season by setting career highs in back-to-back games.
The good: The 6-foot-2, 226-pound Jones is built like a power runner, but he didn’t start the season playing that way. He was tentative and danced a bit in the backfield before hitting the hole. That changed after a chat with coach Will Muschamp, and Jones started hitting the hole aggressively and decisively. He played his best football in November, rushing for 65 yards against Jacksonville State and 81 yards and a touchdown against Florida State. With Gillislee on the sideline with sore ribs, Jones iced the victory over the Seminoles with a 32-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
The bad: Despite his size, Jones isn’t a great short-yardage back ... yet. It was much easier for him in high school, but gaining a yard or two to convert a first down in the SEC is a little tougher. It’s a pad-level and leg-drive issue, and Jones will eventually get it fixed.
Crystal ball: Gillislee’s final game will be the Allstate Sugar Bowl, and Jones will enter spring practices as the top tailback. Mack Brown and Chris Johnson will be the only other experienced backs. Recruit Kelvin Taylor is expected to enroll in January and participate in spring practice, but Jones’ experience in the system should enable him to enter fall as the starter. Recruit Adam Lane gets added to the mix then as well, but Jones likely will be the opening day starter.