ATHENS, Ga. -- When it comes to pass-protection schemes, Jarvis Jones has seen it all.
So even if he will have the chance to rush the passer again this week after a two-week hiatus while defending option offenses, Georgia’s All-America outside linebacker doesn’t expect to benefit from too many one-on-one rushing opportunities.
“You know how they do me when it comes to pass rush and they throw two, three guys on me,” said Jones, who has been stuck on 10.5 sacks this season since last facing a more traditional offense three weeks ago against Auburn. “But it’s fun to get back in the range of it so we can run our defense and get out of this Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern mess. I hated the last two weeks of practice.”
Jones certainly expects to spend more time rushing Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron in Saturday’s SEC championship game than he did against Georgia Tech and Georgia Southern, who combined to attempt only 25 passes while focusing largely on the running game. Getting to McCarron against the Crimson Tide’s vaunted offensive line is a different story altogether.
At first glance, the Tide’s line has been fairly pedestrian in protecting the quarterback, ranking fourth in the SEC with 20 sacks allowed for a total of minus-161 yards -- a pace just ahead of Georgia’s 22 sacks allowed for minus-145. But Alabama surrendered six of those sacks for minus-48 in a 35-0 win against Western Kentucky. Otherwise, Alabama has not surrendered more than two sacks in any game, and none since Texas A&M sacked McCarron twice in dealing Alabama (11-1) its only loss of the season Nov. 10.
“They’ve got three All-Americans up there that are big and physical,” Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said, referring to Alabama center Barrett Jones, left guard Chance Warmack and right tackle D.J. Fluker. “The reason their running backs have had success is one, the running backs are talented, but the offensive line makes some holes for them. They do a good job of getting them some running lanes, they keep the quarterback clean in the pocket.
“That’s one of the reasons [McCarron has] only thrown two interceptions. And I’m sure there’s a confidence factor there, too, with the quarterback that he can hold the ball maybe that half-second longer for guys to come open because they do such a great job at protection.”
It bears mentioning, however, that Alabama’s line has had its struggles against premier pass rushers such as Jones. National sack leader Quanterus Smith of Western Kentucky (12.5 sacks in 10 games, an average of 1.25 per game) recorded three sacks against the Tide and Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore (tied for sixth with 12.5 sacks in 12 games for an average of 1.04 per game) had one.
Jones, ranked fourth with 10.5 sacks in 10 games for an average of 1.05 per game, is certainly in their class and will present a major challenge predominantly for Fluker and left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio to battle.
“I’ve been hearing about him all season,” Warmack said. “I’ve heard he’s an excellent pass rusher and a good defensive player. I watched him a few times on TV. He’s a tremendous athlete, a monster inside.”
Not that it should be any secret by this point, but Alabama coach Nick Saban essentially confirmed Grantham’s prediction that the Tide won’t single block Jones often on Saturday. Expect to see tight ends and running backs helping the tackles block the Bulldogs’ top pass rusher on Saturday.
“You certainly have to have a plan to help the players that have to block him so that hopefully he can’t just get in one-on-one situations where it’s a difficult circumstance for somebody. That’s part of the planning that you need to do,” Saban said. “There have been games this year where he has made a phenomenal amount of plays, whether it’s sacks, causing fumbles. The guy is probably one of the best defensive players in the country in terms of his playmaking ability.”
Jones leads the nation with 0.6 forced fumbles per game (six in 10 games) and is second with 1.95 tackles for a loss per game (19.5), so his impact is not limited to pass-rushing situations.
For example, two of the biggest plays he made all season were an interception after dropping into pass coverage against Missouri, returning the pick to the Tigers’ 1-yard line, and later a fumble he forced at the goal line late in a 17-9 win against Florida, when he chased Gators tight end Jordan Reed 20 yards downfield.
“He just doesn’t give up,” Georgia linebacker Christian Robinson said. “That’s what won the game for us.”
That relentless approach has been on display most in some of Georgia’s biggest games over the past two seasons, but none will be bigger than Saturday’s matchup between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia (11-1) with a spot in the BCS Championship Game at stake -- a contest Jones described as a “lifetime game."
Saban’s Tide will certainly concentrate its blocking attention in Jones’ direction and if it limits his effectiveness, its chances for victory obviously improve. Few opponents have managed to keep a healthy Jones from wreaking havoc in the backfield, though, and Alabama’s balanced offense means pass-rushing opportunities will exist.
“They put the ball in the air,” Jones said. “Whatever they do, I think I’ll be ready. I’m ready for a challenge. It’s a great program, great athletes over there and it’s going to be some big-time football played next Saturday. I’m definitely up for the challenge.”