It would be unfair to label junior running back Matt Jones as a forgotten man but there is no question that another, younger Florida Gators rusher was the prime candidate to breakout in a major way in 2014.
And sophomore Kelvin Taylor may do just that at some point this season.
For now, it is Jones who will not be denied, Jones who is making a major statement and Jones who carried Florida’s offense on his back for 25 yards into the end zone in the third overtime of Saturday’s game.
“We knew Matt Jones could run like that, has been running like that through camp. We’re really just excited to see him be that powerful back. Not a lot of people are talking about him in the SEC, but we feel like he’s the best back,” said redshirt senior center Max Garcia, one of Jones’s interior blockers.
“Just to see him work hard like that and be our workhorse on the offense, just to see him break tackles – I think he broke like 16 tackles or something like that – that just motivates the offensive line to block just a little bit more, to take another bite.”
Jones toted the rock nine times in the three overtimes for an average of 5.2 yards per carry. On the last drive of the game, he trucked ahead for three, 16 and five yards before tumbling into the end zone from one yard out.
For the game, Jones took a career-high 29 carries for 156 yards – amassing a 170 total yards on 30 touches – despite never having a play longer than 20 yards. He also touched the ball at least once in all but four of Florida’s possessions on Saturday evening. And he even did a Marshawn Lynch impression during one fourth-quarter run.
So while Taylor had the preseason hype and sophomore wide receiver Demarcus Robinson earned plenty of well-deserved praise – after all, he caught two touchdowns, matched a Gators career-high with 15 receptions in a single game and is now fourth in UF history in single-game reception yards with 216 – it was Jones who strapped it on, did yeoman’s work and never let up for Florida.
“He was a guy that was obviously really impressive on Saturday. In that last overtime, we just sat there and said, ‘Let’s give it to him and see what happens,’” explained offensive coordinator Kurt Roper on Tuesday.
“’Let’s try to shorten the field goal’ was the first thought. Then when you get in there and you start hammering, you say, ‘Hey, let’s just put this one away right here giving it to 24.’ If it wouldn’t have worked, if we would have stalled out at the 10 or whatever, we would have stalled out. But he was getting the football at that point.”
It was a wise decision by Roper and head coach Will Muschamp and one neither man questioned for a second. Muschamp has been impressed with Jones since the end of his freshman campaign in 2012 when Jones put together all the lessons he learned during the regular season to gash Florida State for 81 yards and a touchdown on eight rushes.
Jones’s sophomore season started late – due to a serious viral infection – and was cut short after Jones tore his meniscus against LSU. Two weeks earlier, he took a career-high 31 touches for a career-high 196 total yards against – guess who? – Kentucky.
Perhaps Muschamp remembered.
“He’s 235 pounds. He gets heavy as the game goes on. He showed you guys that. That was the form we saw a spring ago before last season. And with the runs he was making [on Saturday, I was] really happy to see him healthy,” he said.
Muschamp added: “Matt went through a tough time last year. He really did. I remember him coming into my office and we had a lot of talks and things about life and what happens and dealing with adversity in life and all of those things. … I’m just really proud of him and happy for him.”