Jones-Jenkins matchup big for SEC title

Jones-Jenkins matchup big for SEC title

November 30th, 2012 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Georgia nose tackle John Jenkins (6) closes in on Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers.

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

ATHENS, Ga. - Alabama senior center Barrett Jones could be on the verge of winning a second Outland Trophy and becoming the first player in Southeastern Conference football history to be All-SEC at three positions.

So what's one more challenge within the league?

No strength-on-strength pairing at Saturday's SEC championship game between the No. 2 Crimson Tide and No. 3 Georgia holds more intrigue than the 6-foot-5, 302-pound Jones squaring off against 6-3, 358-pound nose tackle John Jenkins. Jones graded out at 96 percent in last Saturday's 49-0 throttling of Auburn, while Jenkins tallied 11 tackles in the Bulldogs' 42-10 thumping of Georgia Tech.

"That's going to be the clash of the titans," Georgia defensive end Garrison Smith said. "That's going to be good, old-fashioned football. It's going to be a great matchup, and people are going to be excited to see it."

Jones is two games away from wrapping up one of the most decorated careers in Crimson Tide history. After playing right guard his first two seasons, where he was a Freshman All-American in 2009 and All-SEC in 2010, Jones became an All-America left tackle last year and moved to center before the start of spring practice this year.

He graduated with a 4.0 grade point average in accounting during the summer of 2011 and is on track to finish a master's degree next month.

"He's a fantastic player, obviously," Georgia coach Mark Richt said. "To have a guy like that, a senior leader up front right where you need him, is huge. He's got the ability to block a big man because he's a big man himself. A lot of centers aren't quite as big as he is."

Jones anchors a line containing left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, left guard Chance Warmack, right guard Anthony Steen and right tackle D.J. Fluker. They have been billed all year as the best line in college football, and they paved the way for seven touchdowns on Alabama's first seven possessions during last week's romp.

"When we're at our best, we're hard to beat," Jones said. "I think we're clicking on all cylinders right now going into this SEC championship, so it should be a great game. Georgia is playing well, too, so it's going to be a great fight."

Said Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham: "They are really good at what they do. Their quarterback has only thrown two interceptions, and a lot of that is because he's clean in the pocket."

While Jones was wrapping up his time as an Alabama guard two seasons ago, Jenkins was finishing a two-year stint at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, where he followed former Tide nose tackle Terrence Cody. Jenkins said he considered Alabama during the recruiting process until the Tide landed junior college defensive lineman Jesse Williams, who enrolled in January 2011.

In his two seasons with the Bulldogs, Jenkins has tallied 72 tackles, seven tackles for loss and 22 quarterback pressures. He has played some defensive end this year with Kwame Geathers inside and could do more of the same against the Tide's imposing front.

"I'm not going to try and go in there and look for a weak link," Jenkins said. "I don't want to be here because I feel like I can expose a guy. I want to play. Those guys are men, just like I'm a man.

"I'm pretty sure they're not looking for a weak link. They want to prove their dominance in a game."

Georgia's defense was stout down the stretch against SEC competition. The Bulldogs held Florida to 75 rushing yards (1.9 yards per rush), Ole Miss to 46 (1.6) and Auburn to 57 (2.1), and they racked up a combined 13 sacks in those three games.

Which makes Alabama's offensive line vs. Georgia's defensive line -- in particular Jones vs. Jenkins -- showdowns worth watching.

"They've got five guys across the board who are going to play on Sundays, and they've got three All-Americans," Bulldogs defensive line coach Rodney Garner said. "It's going to be a big challenge, but I've told my guys that this is what you want to play against. If you think you're good, you want to play against good people, and obviously these people are good."