Gators ride Jones in the clutch

When Florida needed to pound the football on the ground, it turned to Matt Jones. The junior was the star of the ground game, taking the ball on every play in the third and final overtime of Florida’s win.

After Kentucky’s 41-yard field goal attempt fell short to start the third overtime, the Gators wanted to keep the ball on the ground. Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor split carries up to that point, but with a tired Kentucky defense on the field, Florida wanted to bring the pain and grind out extra yards.

“I knew our big players had to step up and make plays,” Jones said. “That’s what we did. We never hung our head or anything, just made plays.”

There wasn’t any hesitation in the mind of the Florida coaches. They wanted their bruiser. That’s not to say Kelvin Taylor doesn’t run hard, but they used him on the perimeter on Saturday night, showcasing his cutting ability and making people miss.

Jones broke tackles, used his stiff arm and even ran over defenders on the way to clutch first down runs.

“It’s the inside run game,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said as to why Jones was the only back in on the last drive in the third overtime. “Matt pushes the pile. It’s 235 pounds, and he ended up with (156) yards rushing and a lot was second contact yardage. When you’re able to get a guy inside with a power, counter and inside zone, he’s able to lean forward and get you four yards.”

Jones added, “I ran hard. That’s what I’m supposed to do. In the fourth quarter, they were tired and I was breaking tackles. Those carries were great. I knew we had to get the tough yards. They wanted to just keep on pounding them.”

On his last carry, Jones needed just one. He hit runs for 3, 16 and 5 yards before Florida set up for second and goal at the one-yard line. There was no hesitation in the play call or any second guessing. Jones plowed his way to one yard away from the end zone, and the coaches wanted him to finish it off.

He took the handoff from Driskel, pounced into the end zone and gave Florida win in the program’s first ever three-overtime game.

“It was crazy,” Jones said. “I’m at the bottom of the pile, I hear the crowd going wild and I’ve got my teammates on my back. I couldn’t get up because they’re celebrating. Just a great feeling.”

There was some extra motivation for Jones, too. Late in the first quarter, Kelvin Taylor was stopped for a loss of one yard and a Kentucky defender jumped on him after the play. A flag wasn’t thrown, sending the Florida bench and fans into a frenzy, and Taylor was injured because of it. Jones had that in his mind for the rest of the night, delivering blow after blow to the Kentucky defenders. Muschamp referred to it as the play where Taylor “was speared on our sideline.”

“It really made me mad,” Jones said. “They took a cheap shot at my boy.”

The Florida players choose to look at the positives of the game. It put them in a tough situation and a close game, forcing them to make plays to come out on the winning side. And they did.

It wasn’t pretty, and it won’t be the best game Florida plays this season, but it does give the Gators hope that they can handle what they see at Alabama next weekend.

“It’s definitely good,” Jones said. “We needed this game, some adversity to go through before we go to Alabama because they’re a tough team, too. This game prepared us for Alabama.

“We’re going to be ready for Alabama. We’re going to have a great week of practice, prepare right, and we’re going to be ready.”

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