Jones makes statement with breakout game
Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 6:38 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 6:38 p.m.
After battling a debilitating viral infection for more than six weeks, Florida tailback Matt Jones gave every indication Saturday night that he is all the way back with his 28-carry, 176-yard rushing performance against Kentucky.
But is the tailback position back to where it was in the spring, when Jones distanced himself from the competition early and established himself as the Gators’ every-down back?
The answer would seem to be yes, that Jones is The Guy again at tailback based on his performance (and how many carries he got) in Florida’s 24-7 victory.
“It seems like now we’re all trying to create the controversy of the running back deal,” UF offensive coordinator Brent Pease said Tuesday. “I’ll say this: Matt did a very good job. I think when Mack (Brown) was in there, he ran the ball well. He obviously did not get the number of touches. I don’t know if it’s a hot hand, because I think they’re both capable.
“I think if Mack Brown had those carries, I think Mack Brown’s doing the same thing, and that’s not to take anything away from Matt. I think the kids up front did an outstanding job. And, you know, Matt was a guy that got the carries, and sometimes we look back and say, ‘can we balance it out?’
“Yeah, maybe we can do a little bit better job of that because I think some wear and tear is on you. But Matt obviously had led up to probably needing that game. I don’t know if it’s a hot-hand situation because I think they’re both capable of doing it.”
Going into the UK game, the strategy was to stick with the tailback who happened to have the hot hand. It’s the same approach that has been taken since Jones returned in the second game of the season against Miami.
It sounds like that strategy may be altered after the way things played out in the UK game.
Jones appears to be the clear No. 1 tailback again, the every-down back. But it also sounds like Brown is going to have a chance to share some of that playing time as the Gators move forward.
And don’t forget about true freshman Kelvin Taylor. Surprisingly, he did not get any carries last week after Pease and UF coach Will Muschamp had indicated he would earlier in the week. But Taylor, who appeared dejected coming off the field after Saturday night’s game, is still very much in the mix, Pease said.
“We want to get him in there,” Pease said. “I think coach (Brian) White has a good feel on how he controls those guys and how the game flow is going and where we’ve got to pick our spots. It’s hard with one ball, three players. They’re all capable.
“They’re all very good. A couple of them have experience. We spot guys in certain packages to use at certain times. We’ve got to continue to do that. The good thing about it is they’ve all been very unselfish and they’ve all grown and continued to practice real well.”
Even though Jones says he’s still not quite 100 percent, he said he’s ready to compete for playing time and carries. He showed that in the Kentucky game.
Jones said he was motivated by the coaches’ hot-hand approach at the tailback position.
“It was definitely a lot of pressure with coach saying hot hand, knowing that the position was kind of open,” Jones said. “But we feel very confident with all our backs. Everybody’s a good SEC back. It was definitely a lot of pressure on me, but I just took it upon myself to go out there and do what I had to do.
“It still does (fire me up), but like I said, we feel confident with all our backs. I feel that whoever gets in can do the job. I’ve still got a little pressure on me, but it’s OK.”
For the first time this season, Jones played like the dominant back the Gators thought they had heading into the season before he was knocked down by the viral infection in late July.
After struggling to make anything happen in the UM and Tennessee games, Jones was called into Will Muschamp’s office last Monday, where Muschamp told him to relax, stop worrying about making mistakes and turn it loose and run with confidence like he did at the end of last season.
“I came in and he was just like, ‘Just cut it loose, just let the Matt Jones I know let it loose Saturday, stop being timid, stop waiting,’ ” Jones said. “He just told me stuff to do and cut it loose.”
Taylor probably would like to have the opportunity to turn it loose, too. Even though that opportunity has not come through the first four games, Taylor continues to compete hard in practice, Jones said.
“He has a great work ethic,” Jones said. “Sometimes when you don’t get in as a freshman it is kind of hard, like it was for me last year. I was kind of the same way, like why wasn’t I getting in?
“But sometimes, you’re not ready for the SEC. I think he’s ready. It’s not my decision. But his demeanor is great in practice.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.