JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- EverBank Field has been awfully good to Jarvis Jones.
The Georgia outside linebacker produced the two most memorable performances of his career against rival Florida at the Jacksonville Jaguars’ home stadium -- and that’s saying something, considering he was a first-team All-American last season.
The next time he takes this field, he might well be a member of the Jaguars.
“If I can come here and play like this for the Jaguars every night, it would be great,” said Jones -- whom ESPN expert Mel Kiper Jr. ranks as the No. 1 overall prospect for the 2013 NFL draft. And as a one-win team, Jacksonville certainly will be picking among the first clubs in the upcoming draft.
But Jones quickly added that he has some unfinished business as a Bulldog before deciding whether to enter the draft following his junior season. By beating No. 2 Florida 17-9 on Saturday -- with Jones totaling 13 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks, 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries -- No. 10 Georgia moved into first place in the SEC East with two conference games left to play.
“I’m still focused on what we’ve got here -- my teammates and next week we’ve got Ole Miss. I’m just looking forward to practice and executing and having fun doing it,” Jones said.
If Georgia’s coaching staff can count on any player to focus on the here and now -- and in this case, the Bulldogs’ two remaining conference games that can help them defend their SEC East title -- it would be Jones. When he has been healthy, no player on the roster has played with a higher motor.
“He’s the best defensive player in the nation, in my opinion. It’s not too much that guy can’t do,” said safety Bacarri Rambo, who intercepted a Jeff Driskel pass in the UGA end zone just before halftime after Jones pressured the Florida quarterback into a poor throw. “[Two] forced fumbles, three sacks, hey, that’s a big-time player. He made plays in a big-time game and I just gave him credit because he came back and he was a leader. He stepped in and he brought more energy to the defense -- something we’ve been lacking this year.”
After missing last week’s Kentucky game with an ankle injury and playing hurt for much of the season, Jones returned with a vengeance early, late and all points in between Saturday. He recovered a fumble on Florida’s first drive, setting up a Todd Gurley touchdown. He forced a Jordan Reed fumble at Georgia’s goal line in the fourth quarter, practically sealing the Bulldogs’ victory. And he reminded everyone of how dangerous Georgia’s defense can be when its most essential piece is playing up to his capabilities.
“This is a man’s game and this is the kind of game that you’ve got to put players like him to where the ball’s going to be and let him go make plays,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “The guy’s unbelievable, he works hard and he deserves everything he’s gotten. And that energy he brings does feed to our defense.”