Jones Shows Signs of Budding Superstar

Maybe he knew the Houston Astros wouldn't even win 75 games this year. Maybe he just didn't feel like leaving Baton Rouge yet.

Maybe he wants to have the college experience before beginning his professional career. Whatever the reason, Tigers fans have to be happy that Chad Jones decided to play football for Les Miles, especially after last Saturday night. Miles obviously is.

Asked about Jones' contributions to LSU's win over Alabama, Miles whistled softly before continuing.

"True freshman," Miles said. "You need to understand something, now. He showed up here after a little baseball practice in the summer and we said, ‘We're going to use you at free safety. Get you some dime package and stuff.' And, boy, he's been invaluable. Did a good job with the punts. Made a big play on that knockout ... Umpfh."

With approximately 1:42 to go in the fourth quarter of a tied game, Jones made one of the most dramatic plays of the 2007 season.

"We knew it was the time for a big-play opportunity," Jones said. "I slung him and I hit the ball with my arm. I saw it come loose and my teammates jumped on it."

The "him" Jones was referring to was Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson. For Jones, the sack and forced fumble could mean only one thing, considering he plays safety – he was blitzing, a defensive strategy many an LSU fan has been calling for in recent weeks.

"We called it a couple of times in the game, and it was good to us," LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini said. "You can't live by it, but we were looking to be aggressive and go and make a play to win the football game."

In a game that ultimately turned into a back-and-forth-type battle, the Tigers stiffened to allow Alabama just one first down on its final three possessions of the contest. From the second quarter on, the Crimson Tide and Wilson had managed to burn LSU a couple of times, but settling into a prevent-style defense late wasn't something the Tigers seemed to be interested in doing.

"We felt like we had to pressure him," Jones said. "We didn't want to have them sit back in there. He's a very talented quarterback with capable receivers like (DJ) Hall, really good receiver. So, yeah, we felt like we had to get after him."

For Jones, the fumble he forced erased a bad memory from the first half.

Following a Matt Flynn interception that was returned 51 yards after the Tigers appeared to be driving to add to a miniscule 17-13 lead, Alabama had a first-and-10 at the LSU 26-yard line. LSU's Kirston Pittman sacked Wilson for a loss of 9 on first down, but the Crimson Tide quarterback reared back on second-and-19 and Keith Brown leapt high in the end zone and came down with a touchdown to put Alabama ahead, 20-17.

"It was supposed to split a zone," Brown said. "It was more like a two-trap, I guess. The guy that was covering me was inside. The safety was on top outside. I just made a great double move and the ball was in the air, and it was mine. That's all I know."

One of the players Brown had outjumped for the ball was Jones, and with 46 seconds to go in the first half, LSU seemed destined for a collapse of massive proportions. Despite holding Alabama to minus-12 yards rushing in the first half and allowing Wilson to complete just five of18 passes, the Tigers were down. Jones and the rest of the Tigers showed they most certainly were not out. Seven of the Crimson Tide's eight second-half possessions ended with a punt or a turnover, and two of those possessions were three-and-outs.

Ultimately, Jones ended the night with four solo tackles, including two sacks and a forced fumble. He also saw time as a punt returner, hauling in three boots and returning them for a combined 18 yards. The sacks were Jones' first of the season, and his forced fumble complements an acrobatic interception he pulled out of the air in LSU's game against Kentucky. He also knocked down Tim Tebow's last-gasp pass to try and eke out a win in Tiger Stadium in LSU's victory over Florida.

It may be some time before fans begin the comparisons of Jones to No. 1 NFL Draft pick LaRon Landry, but there are glimmers. Jones hits hard. He's a leader on special teams.

And in all nine of the Tigers games this season, he has contributed. But there's still a long way for Jones to go before he works his way into being a first-round draft choice of the world's premier football league. Fans are probably just thankful at the moment that he wasn't a first-round draft choice of the MLB. As for Jones himself, in his very short collegiate career, forcing the fumble against Alabama and having Curtis Taylor pounce on it to set up Jacob Hester's touchdown dive is the pinnacle.

"It's the best feeling I've had as a college football player," Jones said.

With trips to Atlanta and possibly New Orleans still on this season's horizon, perhaps Jones will have the opportunity to redefine "best" before the 2007 campaign is over.

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