ATHENS, Ga. — Coming off perhaps the greatest game of his college career, Jarvis Jones could’ve savored all the accolades.
Instead, he wanted to go over what he did wrong.
There wasn’t much to quibble about after the linebacker for No. 7 Georgia demolished Missouri. Two sacks. Two forced fumbles. The first interception of his career, which he almost brought back for a touchdown.
Yet, when Jones got in the film room, he didn’t want to look at all those plays.
“People never tell you what didn’t do or how you could have done something better,” he said. “Everybody is patting you on the back and telling you, ‘Hey, you did this good, you did that good.’ But when you watch the film, you’re like, ‘Man, did I really play that bad?’ That’s the way I look at it. How can I improve?”
It’s that sort of attitude that has transformed Jones into one of the country’s most feared defensive players. If the junior has a few more games like he did last week he could force his way into serious consideration for the Heisman Trophy.
“I never thought about that one,” Jones said this week. “That would be big.”
Georgia (2-0) is a huge favorite Saturday against Florida Atlantic (1-1), so this might be a good time for Jones to heal his strained groin and a bruised shoulder. But whn he’s on the field, he’ll be going all out.
Just ask Missouri quarterback James Franklin.
“I remember one play, he took off running and I ended up hitting him,” Jones said, describing a single sequence that was actually more of a theme in Georgia’s 41-20 victory. “He got up and was like, ‘Dang, man, why did you have to hit me so hard?’ I thought it was funny.”
It’s not much fun for offensive coordinators, who must account for the 6-foot-3, 241-pound Jones at all times. He’s cut from the mold of Lawrence Taylor, an outside linebacker who can rush the quarterback with both explosiveness and better-than-average strength for size, or peel off to play the run, or show off his speed by dropping into pass coverage.
“He’s got to be ready for challenges, because the more plays you make, the more things people are going to try to do things to stop you,” said Todd Grantham, Georgia’s defensive coordinator. “As we move through the league, there’s a lot of good offensive coordinators and coaches. They understand the value of personnel. They’re going to do things to take him out of the game.”
That’s where Jones’ versatility comes in handy.
“It’s good to have complete players like Jarvis,” Grantham said. “Jarvis is not one-dimensional. If he was just a rusher, it would be a little tougher for him. But because he can do multiple things, he brings something else to your defense that you can utilize.”
Jones started his career at Southern California, but things didn’t go quite as planned with the Trojans. He did well on the field, until a scary neck injury against Oregon knocked him out for the rest of his freshman season. Then coach Pete Carroll - a big reason the Georgia native signed with a school on the other side of the country - bolted for the NFL. Jones decided to leave, too, winding up back in his home state with the Bulldogs.
He had to sit out the 2010 season after transferring, but Grantham knew he had a special player when Jones got a chance to work at several positions during practices leading up to the bowl.
“Truthfully, after about a day, I knew where he needed to go,” the coordinator said. “We ended up moving him to outside backer and that’s where he’s been ever since.”
Once Jones got into a game for the Bulldogs, he quickly established himself as the team’s top defensive player, helping Georgia win 10 straight games and claim a spot in the SEC championship game. He led the conference with 13.5 sacks. In all, he had 19.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, to go along with a staggering 49 quarterback pressures. He also forced two fumbles and broke up a couple of passes, earning All-America honors as well as being a finalist for the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker.
Since he was three years removed from high school, Jones could have entered the NFL draft.
But he decided to return for at least one more season, believing there were plenty of things he could improve on, especially with his technique. For instance, using his hands more when fending off blockers.
“Basically, he did what he said he was going to do,” coach Mark Richt said. “He wanted to come back to get better. He thought he could get better. He got in better condition. He’s stronger. He’s got more stamina. He wanted to become a better student of the game. He studies film more than he ever has in his career.
“He wants to be a special player.”
So far, so good.