Jones looks to return to form after bye week
Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 at 7:46 p.m.
Two weeks ago in Miami, Matt Jones certainly appeared to be the same guy who everyone saw late last season and in the spring. Big, strong, fast, the dreadlocks flowing from the back of his helmet.
But the Florida sophomore tailback didn't quite feel like the same Matt Jones, he said. Which, of course, is quite understandable considering the physical ordeal he's been through.
“Definitely not,” he said. “Getting back into the game, that was my first game back. I was a little nervous and not 100 percent running-wise. I wasn't really trusting myself. But as it went, I started trusting myself a little bit.
“It was more physical. Mentally, I was kind of prepared. My body was just, I wasn't ready for the hits and stuff like that yet.”
Jones' season began quietly and uneventfully in Miami. He carried the ball 18 times in the loss to the Hurricanes, gaining only 47 yards (a 2.6-yard average) and losing a fumble.
It was not the starting debut he (and everyone else) had been anticipating when he came out of the spring as the Gators' clear-cut starter at tailback. Jones had shown flashes of greatness late last season, then separated himself from the competition at his position with an excellent spring.
But between then and the start of camp, Jones was viciously undercut, knocked down by a serious viral infection that put him in the hospital just before the start of camp in early August.
“Just everything that relates to a stomach problem: throwing up, headaches, not feeling too good,” Jones said. “There were days in the hospital I couldn't eat.
“I wasn't really concerned. I knew it was going to go away. I just wasn't sure how long I was going to have it. I definitely had a little down point, but I took it well.”
Jones said he spent six or seven days in the hospital and lost 10 to 12 pounds.
He missed all of camp recovering and wasn't quite physically ready to play in the Aug. 31 opener. A few days after that, he was cleared to play in the Miami game. He played OK, but never really felt OK, he said.
“Getting back on the field was kind of tough. I was fatigued a lot, trying to learn plays again and getting comfortable with the game, because the game was a little fast. It was definitely a tough process, but I think I handled it well.”
As anticipated coming out of the spring, Jones was pretty much the Gators' every-down tailback against UM. But it was pretty obvious he was still not quite himself — the playmaking tailback he'd evolved into a few months earlier.
“Well, going into that game he had done some good things in practice,” UF offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. “But I don't think he had been in the situation of being hit by defenders, and that probably showed up in the game.
“Now that he's kind of gone through that in the last week and kind of taken the majority of reps in practice and built up his endurance and been bounced around a little bit, I think he's a lot further along to where he's comfortable with what he's doing and understanding the scheme. So I think he's much closer to what we need him to be."
Jones said earlier this week that he's finally all the way back. He said he started feeling like his old self last week during the open date. Now, he's expecting to have a breakout game (which everyone has been anticipating since the spring) against Tennessee on Saturday.
“It was this bye week, starting Monday,” he said. “I went through practice feeling good, making the right cuts, making one cut that I usually make. Monday through Friday was the best practice I've had so far.
“I definitely have big expectations. I want to take the team on my back now that I'm back and I feel I know how the game feels now. I have big expectations going into this game to run hard and trust myself, put the O-line first, trust (quarterback Jeff) Driskel and things like that.
“I feel the way that I felt like in the spring right now — moving around, catching the ball, protection-wise and knowing everything I need to know.”
Although his debut two weeks ago did not play out quite like he would have liked, Jones said it was something he needed to go through in his comeback from his illness.
“I think it was a good thing for me to come back against Miami, getting used to the game,” he said. “I needed to feel like that and how the speed of the game changed and stuff like that. I'm definitely glad I came back (for that game).”
Two weeks later, Jones is feeling he's all the way back.
“That's the thing with football, sometimes you can have a downfall,” he said. “You don't know when you can get hurt. It's how you overcome it and how you come back.
“(Now) I feel just like I did back in the spring.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.