- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
Even if the freshman outside linebacker never matches the eye-popping statistics that Jones has produced in a season-and-a-half as a Bulldog, Jenkins has already emerged as a key defensive weapon himself. He certainly proved that in last Saturday’s 17-9 upset of then-No. 2 Florida, when he and Jones formed quite the dynamic duo -- typically as bookends on opposite edges of the line of scrimmage.
Jones produced one of the most memorable individual performances in recent memory against the Gators, but both players wreaked havoc against Florida while playing at the same time -- an opportunity that Jenkins hopes will arise again.
“We definitely were on the field a lot more in this game. I don’t know if it’s going to stay like that or not,” said Jenkins, whose sixth-ranked Bulldogs (7-1, 5-1 SEC) host Ole Miss (5-3, 2-2) on Saturday. “Hopefully it does because I was doing some pretty good things.”
Jones won multiple national weekly awards after registering 13 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries against Florida. Conversely, Jenkins’ line of two tackles and 0.5 tackles for a loss against the Gators hardly gauges the impact he made in the Bulldogs’ win.
For example, Jenkins beat Florida offensive tackle Chaz Green with a third-down pass rush in the first quarter and grabbed Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel around the neck. Driskel slipped away, but wobbled into Jones, who hammered him and stripped the ball loose for a fumble that Cornelius Washington recovered.
Or in the second quarter, when he beat Green again and knocked down a Driskel pass to halt another drive on third down. Or on yet another third-down play -- this time at Georgia’s 5-yard line -- he dashed toward Driskel following a bad snap and forced him to throw earlier than he wanted, missing Trey Burton on what otherwise might have been a touchdown pass.
None of those plays show up on a stat sheet, but they made a difference as Georgia eventually earned a crucial victory.
“Just seeing him out there, I enjoyed it,” said Jones, who rooms with Jenkins before every game. “It just made me smile just to see him out there on the field, him being young and getting the opportunity to play in a game like this. Most freshmen dream of playing in the Florida-Georgia game as a true freshman, and him getting the opportunity and he made some big plays.”
Jenkins started in Jones’ place against both Florida Atlantic and Kentucky when the All-America junior sat out with injuries. He started again versus Florida, this time playing alongside his mentor more than he had all season.
In the 77 times where Georgia’s defense lined up against Florida -- factoring in all instances like penalties or timeouts -- Jones never left the field. Meanwhile, Jenkins participated in 56 plays, often alternating with Jones between the left and right sides (Jones started 45 plays on the right side of the line, 31 on the left and one in the middle, while Jenkins started 23 on the right and 33 on the left) because of a variety of strategic factors that defensive coordinator Todd Grantham refused to disclose.
But it’s clear that Grantham likes having the two dynamic pass rushers on the field at the same time -- often with hybrid outside linebacker Washington also in at defensive end -- because of their collective ability to harass opposing quarterbacks from either side of the line.
“[Jones and Jenkins are] the kind of guys that you want to have obviously from a setting-the-edge standpoint, from a run standpoint and then from a pass-rush standpoint,” Grantham said. “Those two guys have got a pretty good pass rush, a pretty good twitch, get-off, and it allows them not to be able to say that they can totally go to this guy. If they do, it’s going to leave somebody else one-on-one.
“By doing that, though, a guy like Cornelius Washington went inside and that was really big for us. I thought Cornelius did good inside, so at times we had as many as three outside backers in there, maybe four every now and then.”
After his dominant outing against Florida, Jones moved to first nationally in tackles for a loss per game (2.33) and forced fumbles per game (0.83), while also ranking second in sacks per game (1.42) and 12th in fumble recoveries per game (0.33).
That sets an awfully high bar for Jenkins to try to ever match, but he’s already off to a phenomenal start. ESPN expert Mel Kiper this week named the freshman the nation’s third-best pro prospect among defensive underclassmen, remarking, “Get to know him now because he'll be a huge name next year -- and he'll only be a sophomore.”
So while it might be difficult for Jenkins to reach Jones’ current level of dominance -- “I don’t think nobody will ever be Jarvis. Jarvis is in a category by himself,” linebacker Amarlo Herrera admitted -- it becomes more apparent each week that Jenkins’ star is on the rise. And nobody seems more convinced of that than Jones himself.
“He’s my little brother,” Jones said. “I’ve got him up under my wing. I told his parents I was going to take care of him if he came here and that’s what I’m trying to do.
“I think he’s going to explode to be a great player.”