Jones' big plays break open close game

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Jarvis Jones is hard enough to block under the most neutral circumstances for an opposing offense. But when Georgia’s All-America outside linebacker figures out the opposing team’s snap count -- as he did in Saturday night’s 41-20 win at Missouri -- it’s almost impossible.

“I learned the snap count in the first quarter, in the first half,” Jones said after the game. “They started sliding the protection my way in the second half more. They started trying to cut [block] me, but then they just started blocking me man-to-man and I was beating them off the ball, so that helped me out.”

Jones introduced himself to a national audience with his four-sack performance against Florida last season, but he reminded the world Saturday night in the nationally televised game that he can still wreak havoc -- particularly with his two victory-saving plays in the fourth quarter.

Jones broke open what had been a close game when he first intercepted a James Franklin pass at the Missouri 22-yard line and returned it within an eyelash of the end zone, setting up Todd Gurley’s touchdown run on the next play that gave Georgia a 34-20 lead.

On Missouri’s next possession, Jones sacked Franklin for an 11-yard loss and forced him to fumble, and teammate Jordan Jenkins finally recovered the loose ball at Missouri's 5-yard line. Ken Malcome ran for a touchdown three plays later and Georgia suddenly led 41-20 when it had been in serious trouble for much of the night before Jones took over.

And, get this: Jones produced his stunning stat line -- eight tackles, one sack, one tackle for a loss, one forced fumble, one pass breakup and an interception -- despite playing with a groin injury that had bothered him for much of the week.

“He may be the best defensive player in America,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “I’ll be honest with you, he had strained his groin in the middle of the week and couldn’t really move around very good about Wednesday. We were just hoping he’d be able to go and it was bothering him the whole game.

“It’s hard to believe that, but he sucked it up and he played the whole time and he made the very big plays when we needed them the most. That’s what great players do.”

Considering how regularly Jones made himself a nuisance in the Tigers’ backfield, it’s almost understandable that Franklin threw the interception directly to him in the fourth quarter. Surely he did not expect Jones to drop off the line of scrimmage into pass coverage, but that’s exactly what he did.

Don’t expect that to happen frequently, but with four starters out on suspension, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said everyone needed to chip in a bit extra in Saturday’s win.

“We had to play a certain way because of the guys that we had and everybody understood that, and some guys had to do more things,” Grantham said. “Like for example, Jarvis had an interception -- which we’re not going to drop him a lot -- but he had that and he comes back with a couple of caused fumbles.”

That kind of production hardly surprises Jones' teammates anymore. “That’s Jarvis,” cornerback Malcolm Mitchell said. But Jones said he views it as his role on the team to provide difference-making plays under such circumstances.

“My teammates look at me as a leader. I’m the one that gets the boys going and I just had to step it up,” Jones said. “They were checking down the passes real quick and I got off the ball good. I learned the snap count and got off the ball good and made plays.”

Yet, despite the strong evidence of it, he refused to acknowledge that it was his best game as a Bulldog.

“I think I played good, as well as my teammates, but we’ve just got to keep on grinding, go in the film room Monday,” Jones said. “I’m sure I didn’t do everything well, so I’ve got to learn from my mistakes and hopefully you can get some more good games out of me.”