Gators RB Jones breaks out with career game

By Adam Silverstein
September 29, 2013

When Florida Gators sophomore running back Matt Jones was laid up in a hospital bed a number of weeks ago recovering from a serious viral infection, doubt crept into his mind as to whether he would ever get back to form this season.

It took him weeks of check-ups, blood tests and the like just to get on the practice field and more than two full weeks of practice until he saw game action.

That came against Miami on Sept. 7 when he averaged 2.6 yards per carry and coughed up a fumble. He played better two weeks later when Florida hosted Tennessee, scoring a touchdown and averaging 4.1 yards per touch, but fumbled for a second time in as many games.

Jones admitted after Saturday’s contest that he was not physically ready to play in either of those games. He kept telling himself that he was healthy and ready to go, but he was only about 70-80 percent at UM and a bit better than that against UT.

Though he still looked a step slow and did not have his normal burst during the Gators’ 24-7 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats, Jones put together a career game he should remember for quite some time. He took a career-high 28 carries for a career-high 176 yards, averaging 6.3 yards per rush and scoring a touchdown, and also grabbed three receptions for 20 yards.

“I’d say I’m about 95 percent right now,” he said afterwards. “That’s what I grind[ed] for all offseason. Definitely missing camp kind of took me off track. But this is what I was really grinding for, just games like this.”

Jones believes he is just a couple steps away from being back to his normal self. “I’m still kind of iffy about some things,” he admitted. But he also thinks Saturday’s performance will go a long way to increasing his confidence. “It was definitely a big weight off my shoulders because I had so much pressure on me. … It was big for me.

Head coach Will Muschamp said after the game that he had a heart-to-heart meeting with Jones on Monday. He understood that Jones was still recovering from an illness that caused the player to lose nearly a dozen pounds in body weight but was more concerned with seeing his focus and mentality improve during games.

“When you miss four weeks, a month, maybe a little over a month of exercise and activity, I don’t care how old you are, it’s going to shut your body down a little bit. It takes some time to respond, especially with some of the physicality and holding onto the ball and doing that sort of stuff,” he explained.

“[I’m] just real proud of Matt. I pulled Matt in Monday. I said, ‘Man, you need to cut loose and play. You’re very tentative when you’re running. You look like last year at the beginning of the year. If you make a mistake, hell, put it on me. I don’t care. Everybody else does. Just run the ball hard. Run the ball hard, cut it loose and go play.’”

Jones pointed out that the meeting helped him immensely.

“The first two games I came back I was real timid and not thinking too much. He put me in his office Monday and said just turn it loose. Mistakes going to happen in this game, so just turn it loose. I took that to effect, and that’s what I did,” he said.

He ran so well, in fact, that Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease only called seven passing plays in the second half. One week after Muschamp announced that the team would go with the “hot hand” approach at running back, Jones only lost six total carries to redshirt junior back-up Mack Brown.

“With the surge we were getting up front, why throw it? I was just standing on the field and I’m just sitting there watching three and four yards every time we snap the ball,” Muschamp said. “Just continue to go with what’s working. We were getting very good surge up front. I through our guys did a great job getting a hat on a hat in the run game.”

Jones also credited the offensive line for his success on Saturday. “We kept it going, and we just dominated,” he said.

But he also had to address his 67-yard run that was nearly a 79-yard touchdown…had he not been tackled by redshirt junior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar on the way.

“I was downfield trying to cut back and go the other way and beat the corner out,” he said, “but Dunbar had come across and he was trying to block the corner, too. But I ain’t really see him out the corner of my eye and he kind of hit my leg.”

He may have missed out on a highlight, but Jones was not pouting after his career day. Instead, he was wondering what he will be able to do in order to get five percent healthier before next Saturday’s game.

Photo Credit: James Crisp/Associated Press


  1. Michael Jones says:

    We finally saw a little bit of the hard to tackle beast Muschamp was describing back in Spring camp.

  2. 305Gator says:

    Guess he wasn’t ready for the Miami game, and it showed. Too bad the coaches didn’t know it and it costs us the game. But is good to have him back in form now that we enter the heart of our SEC schedule. him and the O line healthy with all the guys together at last.
    Go Gators!!

    • Tractorr says:

      Can’t put that all on Jones. The team did not take Miami seriously and when you don’t take the competition seriously you lose.

    • gatorboi352 says:

      “Too bad the coaches didn’t know it and it costs us the game.”

      Pretty sure Driskel had his hand in the “costing us the game” cookie jar as well.

  3. ziggy says:

    I like seeing Jones running the ball when it’s working, but we could have scored 40 if we would have thrown the ball in the 2nd half. My only concern is that we’re going to have a hard time getting those stud receivers if we don’t show a more pass oriented (fun) offense.

    • Alex says:

      I agree, but I think we’ll be ok. Just look at the guys who have attended Georgia Tech in the triple option years. Not too shabby.

  4. Alex says:

    When you remove the big run from the calculation, he was averaging right around 4 yds/carry. I wouldn’t proclaim him “back” just yet – Especially when he was visibly gassed after 60 yards of that big run. He did a yeoman’s work against Kentucky, but he doesn’t look himself at this point. Hope he can continue to recover.

    Note that this is not taking anything away from him – it was an awesome performance. Just hope he can continue to get healthy.

    • That’s not how it works. Take away Adrian Peterson’s longest run each game and his average drops, too.

      • Alex says:

        I understand that’s not “how it works,” but it’s still a reasonable indicator of how he’s doing on “normal” plays. Obviously it’s not a statistically relevant measure. If it doesn’t work for you, just look at him. He’s not pushing piles like he was last year, and he ran out of juice on the long run. As I said, he kicked butt out there, but he’s not himself just yet.

        • gatorboi352 says:

          I’ve learned to not argue against statistics with Adam. 🙂

        • gatorboi352 says:

          But I’m with you, Alex. I’m more of an “eye test” kind of fan. Like Spurrier said “Stats are for losers and assistant coaches” or something to that effect.

          Driskel didn’t “look” the part.

          Jones doesn’t “look” to be back where he was and can be.

          • G2 says:

            I agree, doesn’t seem to be there yet but good to see him break off the long run. In the meantime would love to see some KT action. When is going to get in?

  5. Nugent1021 says:

    Not trying to be a basher, but I haven’t seen it from jones yet. Last year everyone raved after the fsu game, but I believe they had a horrible rush defense. Now, seems like everyone is saying jones is back when really he was up against the same defense (stoops) as he was with fsu. He’s good against bad rush defenses. That’s all I’ve seen. Wish it was more than that. Hope I’m wrong.

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