Vols hope to keep Tide's Jones in slump

Vols hope to keep Tide's Jones in slump

October 19th, 2009 by Wes Rucker in Sports - College

KNOXVILLE -- Georgia and Alabama stacked in consecutive October games was supposed to give the Tennessee defense consecutive chances to stop an elite wide receiver.

But unlike Georgia's A.J. Green, Alabama's Julio Jones hasn't carried pass-catching momentum from a stellar freshman season.

As a run-blocker, receiving decoy and occasional punt return specialist, Jones has played a vital role in the top-ranked Crimson Tide's undefeated season. He has excelled in nearly every area except the one he was supposed to excel the most -- catching the football, moving the chains and putting points on the board.

Jones -- a chiseled, 6-foot-4, 210-pound specimen -- ranks a stunning fourth on his own team with just 13 catches and 175 yards. He's caught fewer passes than tight end Colin Peek and tailback Mark Ingram.

Three Tide players have caught at least eight passes and averaged more yards per reception than Jones, whose speed, strength and leaping ability helped him shatter every Alabama freshman receiver record.

Jones had a 33-yard punt return in Alabama's home victory over South Carolina on Saturday night, but he didn't catch a single pass.

First-year UT coach Lane Kiffin and his players aren't buying into any notion that Jones is suffering through a sophomore slump, though.

"Great player," Kiffin said. "Great, great player."

Added Volunteers sophomore cornerback Art Evans: "Oh, man, he's good. Really good. He's big, fast, strong and he's got great hands, just like Green. He's a special player."

Jones, when healthy, is always a threat to end his drought.

But UT's defense doesn't seem the most conducive to stopping his cold streak, especially considering the Vols' effort against Green on Oct. 10.

Green's 60 yards on eight catches -- pedestrian, by his lofty standards -- were one of the biggest factors in UT's blowout of the Bulldogs. His 7.5 yards per catch against the Vols were nearly half his previous low mark of the season.

"We tried to do our best with being perfect on the assignments and coverages; that was really the main thing," Evans said. "Everybody knows we have great coaches, and if you just listen to them, because they've been there and done that, then you'll be successful."

UT defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said Green's natural ability was on par with the NFL's best, and he gave the Georgia star similar treatment to Carolina Panthers All-Pro playmaker Steve Smith. To stop Green, Monte installed many of the same techniques his Tampa Bay Buccaneers defenses used to stifle Smith.

"We had a bunch of different coverages that we used to take things away from (Green), and get in his face, too, so he couldn't have free releases at times," Lane Kiffin said. "If you let A.J. get a free release and get rolling, he's really hard to cover, so we tried to bump and run a little bit.

"There was a lot of special attention, a lot of different coverages specific for (Green)."

UT's staff obviously doesn't plan on surrendering their Jones' plan before Saturday's 3:30 p.m. kickoff, but it quite likely will be drastically different. As talented as Jones and some of Alabama's pass-catchers are, the Tide generally rely on their potent, physical ground game.

"You can say it's winning ugly or whatever, but it's still winning," Alabama coach Nick Saban said moments after the South Carolina game.

But Jones is still a threat -- albeit one that UT is arguably prepared for following its performance against the Bulldogs.

"There's always things we can work on and do better, but I feel like we did a great job (against Georgia)," Evans said.

Kiffin's take was a tad more cautious.

"It does make us feel good ... but we'll have our hands full with our next opponent, because that guy (Jones) is a great player, as well," Kiffin said.

Evans said the secondary will simply continue trusting Monte Kiffin and his assistants to put in proper plans.

"(Green and Jones) are both great receivers, but I know our coaches are going to keep working hard to get us the game plan," Evans added. "We've just got to carry it out the right way, and do everything they say. And if we do that, I know we'll be successful."

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