ATHENS, Ga. — The Georgia Bulldogs expect to be improved this week against Florida with the return of tailback Todd Gurley.
They wouldn't mind having Jarvis Jones back, either.
The rookie linebacker with the Pittsburgh Steelers stole the show in his two meetings against the Gators at EverBank Field in Jacksonville. In leading the Bulldogs to victories in 2011 and again last season, Jones compiled 18 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
In the 17-9 upset a year ago, Jones stripped Florida tight end Jordan Reed at Georgia's 5-yard line, causing a fumble that the Bulldogs recovered for a touchback with two minutes remaining.
"Playmakers show up in big games, and he's obviously a playmaker," Bulldogs defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said this week. "He did a good job of watching tape and understanding the weaknesses of the team and the guys he was going against. The thing about Jarvis is that he played all four quarters, and if you go back and look at his Florida games, a lot of his big plays were in the fourth quarter.
"He's just a guy who keeps coming and wearing people down, and when you play that relentless, that's when big plays are made."
With Jones no longer a disruptive force against the Gators, will someone else fill the void? Jordan Jenkins started at the opposite outside linebacker spot from Jones in last year's game and was hoping to be Georgia's latest dominant player at that position.
Jenkins has been good but not great as a sophomore, tallying 25 tackles, a team-high eight tackles for loss and three sacks, but big plays on this year's defense have been more spread out among the players. Jones had a school-record 14.5 sacks last season, but Jenkins (five) and former inside linebacker Alec Ogletree (three) were the only others with more than two.
Through eight games this season, defensive end Ray Drew has five sacks and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd four for a unit whose average of 2.71 sacks per game is higher than last year's 2.29 clip.
"That's the biggest difference between this team and last year's team," said senior defensive lineman Garrison Smith, who has 1.5 sacks. "Jarvis Jones was in so many different places and made so many different plays, but now it's divided among everybody, and everybody has to do his own part to make a play. Leonard Floyd has to step up, and Ray Drew has been playing really well.
"It's going to take all 11 guys doing their part. We don't have Jarvis there to make a hundred tackles like he did last year."
Grantham believes this year's defense has "more guys who can win a block" to get to the quarterback. He added that some of the credit should go to the secondary as well, because some of the sacks have been due to good coverage.
Still, Jenkins admits he's feeling a little extra pressure this week after what Jones accomplished the past two seasons. Jones racked up four sacks in the 2011 game at the expense of John Brantley, while his three sacks last year were of Jeff Driskel, who is out for this game after breaking his leg against Tennessee.
New starting quarterback Tyler Murphy has posed more of a running threat, but he was sacked six times when the Gators last played at Missouri on Oct. 19.
"When Jarvis got drafted, I saw where Jeff Driskel tweeted congratulations and how he had made his career on playing them," Jenkins said. "Their new quarterback now is really mobile and really different than Driskel. Driskel doesn't really like to move around a lot and is a bigger guy, but Murphy throws efficiently off the run. He changed the whole game plan.
"When it comes to open space, Murphy might win one of those battles. It's going to be an interesting game. "
Odds and ends
Florida's injury woes continue to mount, as Gators coach Will Muschamp announced Wednesday that starting left tackle D.J. Humphries sprained his MCL in Monday's practice and will be out two to four weeks. ... Georgia coach Mark Richt said after Wednesday's 90-minute workout that safeties Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons would be able to play Saturday in addition to Gurley. ... Richt said backup inside linebacker Reggie Carter (knee cartilage) could be back in two or three weeks.
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...