- David Ching, ESPN Staff Writer
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Editor’s note: Each day this week, we will look back at a memorable moment or series of events from Georgia’s 2012 season. We begin today with Jarvis Jones’ game-changing plays in two Bulldogs victories.
ATHENS, Ga. -- In a season full of highlight-reel plays, Georgia’s All-America outside linebacker Jarvis Jones provided some of the most memorable moments.
In particular, he placed himself in the Heisman Trophy conversation (he finished 10th) with a pair of dominant performances in wins against Missouri and Florida.
Although injuries eventually derailed Mizzou’s season, the Tigers were a formidable opponent when the Bulldogs visited Columbia in Week 2 for the SEC newcomer’s first conference game. And Georgia’s outlook wasn’t particularly sunny late in the third quarter when it trailed 20-17. But Jones was the driving force in the Bulldogs’ 24-0 run to close the game, generating two touchdowns almost single-handedly.
With the Bulldogs leading 27-20 midway through the fourth quarter, Jones surprised Mizzou quarterback James Franklin by dropping back into pass coverage, picking off his throw at the Tigers’ 22-yard line and returning it all the way to the 1 to set up a Todd Gurley touchdown.
On Missouri’s very next possession, Jones ran down Franklin in the backfield for a sack and jarred the ball loose for a fumble that Jordan Jenkins recovered at the Tigers’ 5. Ken Malcome scored a touchdown shortly afterward that pushed what had been a one-touchdown lead to a three-score advantage in the matter of only a few plays.
The national media started pumping Jones for the Heisman that night, but a series of injuries would take the steam out of the junior’s grassroots campaign. However, if a defensive player ever gave a performance that merited that kind of attention, it was Jones’ similar game-changing effort in a 17-9 win against then-unbeaten Florida.
He actually improved upon a four-sack effort against the Gators from 2011 by dominating every facet of the rematch. His final line: 13 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries would be an acceptable total for the average defensive starter -- for an entire season.
Jones did it in one game and provided possibly the play of Georgia’s season when he chased down Gators tight end Jordan Reed at the Bulldogs’ goal line and forced a fumble that Sanders Commings recovered in the end zone with 2:05 remaining to snuff out Florida’s comeback bid.
Johnny Manziel, Manti Te’o or Collin Klein enjoyed more successful seasons in the eyes of the many Heisman voters who helped them become finalists for the award. But Jones at his best was every bit as important as any of those players -- and his performances in these two games in particular paved the way for Georgia to win its second straight SEC East title and come within an eyelash of playing for the BCS title.