By Matt Dixon
BATON ROUGE, La. - There was no time to ease Gerald Jones back into the offense.
In his first game back since breaking a bone in his hand in Tennessee's season-opening win against UT-Martin, the senior wide receiver made his impact felt Saturday against 12th-ranked LSU in Tiger Stadium.
"I think I did well," Jones said after the game. "I played very physical. I wasn't even worried about the hand."
Jones was the team's leading receiver, catching five passes for 46 yards. Three of his receptions went for first downs in third-down situations, an area that has plagued the Vols all year. They converted on seven of 15 third downs against the tough Tigers.
During the week, UT quarterback Matt Simms said he was going to look Jones' way early and make it a point to get him the ball, and he was successful in doing so.
On the Vols' only scoring drive of the first half, Simms connected with Jones for two first downs on critical third downs. The first was a 7-yard reception on a third-and-3 that gave UT a new set of downs at the LSU 36 yard-line. His second reception was his longest of the game, a 26-yarder that gave the Vols a first-and-goal at the LSU 3 and set up running back Tauren Poole's 1-yard touchdown run with 24 seconds left in the first quarter to tie the game at 7.
The pressure the LSU defense put on Simms affected the Vols' passing game all day. He was sacked five times and pressured on numerous passing plays. UT was forced to max protect on many occasions, and Simms took a lot of snaps out of the shotgun to give him more time to look downfield.
"Most of the time, it was about this far away from making a big play," Jones said with his hands close together. "They were running a lot of man-to-man [coverage] and I was beating my man all night. But they were blitzing. They did a great job of not showing blitz and then hitting us from every angle so we couldn't get the ball off. We just couldn't protect Matt. If we could've had just another second, the game probably could've went a whole another way."
Simms completed 12-of-23 passes for just 121 yards, but the passing game kept the Tigers from stacking the box to stop Poole on the ground.
Missing Jones for three games, especially the back-to-back home games against top-10 ranked opponents Oregon and Florida, was a huge blow to a Volunteers offense that was expecting him to be the go-to receiver with such an inexperienced offensive line and a new starting quarterback heading into the season.
"Getting Gerald back was big," Poole said. "He was a vocal leader. He told us he was going to bring it for us, and you saw that he was. He helped us out a lot. We need Gerald. We need every receiver out there, but Gerald specifically. He's here for everybody and he's a team player."
"He made plays today, and he's going to continue to make plays during the season."
For the season, Jones has 11 receptions for 132 yards in two games.
Contact Matt Dixon at email@example.com or 423-757-6273.