Fans of the No. 10 Bulldogs (5-1, 3-1 SEC) are hoping Odell Thurman gets the last word in similar fashion today because the junior linebacker certainly seems tired of hearing about Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones. Thurman, a Monticello native, can do something about it when the Bulldogs play the Razorbacks (3-3, 1-2) at 7 p.m. in Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Ark. The game will be televised by ESPN2.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge,” Thurman said. “Everybody says he’s ‘The Magician’ back there.”
Jones leads the SEC in total offense with 274.3 yards per game. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound senior is the second-leading passer in the league and also his team’s leading rusher (61.2 yards per game).
“He’s a very, very difficult man to slow down,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “You will not stop him.”
Thurman has heard that kind of talk all week from his coaches and teammates, but he’s not willing to concede anything.
“I feel pretty confident in my speed. Honestly, I don’t feel he’s faster than me,” said Thurman, who described Jones as “pretty fast once he gets going.”
Since returning from a three-game suspension, Thurman has helped the Bulldogs’ defense recover from a disappointing start and climb to No. 4 in the nation in yards allowed. Thurman’s eight tackles per game would rank fifth in the SEC if he had played enough games to qualify.
“We’re just a little faster and a little meaner when he’s in there,” Richt said.
Thurman is expected to have plenty of chances to prove himself against Jones. On most plays, the Bulldogs will have one defender responsible for spying on Jones, Richt said.
Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder is perpetually hesitant to discuss anything that might resemble a gameplan, but he acknowledged, “Odell is one of the guys who could do something like that with his speed.”
Jones has been limited by a groin injury all week, and it’s not a certainty that he’ll play today, according to Arkansas coach Houston Nutt. For Richt, that’s too much to hope for.
Arkansas backup quarterback Robert Johnson is 8 of 11 for 162 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in three games this year.
“We’ll certainly know Johnson’s game, but anything besides Jones probably would be a blessing really,” Richt said.
VanGorder said he expects the Razorbacks to run the same system with Jones or Johnson in the game.
The reason Jones is so dangerous is because he can buy time to throw the ball with his mobility, and, if he can’t find a receiver, he’ll take off with long, fast strides. What Georgia’s head-hunting defensive players, particularly its safeties, have to do is stay with their man in pass coverage until Jones fully commits himself to the run.
“If we don’t stay on our man, we’re going to have problems,” Richt said.
“It’s not just me and Greg (Blue),” said safety Thomas Davis. “That holds true for the whole team. It does goes against your instincts because the teaching around here is to react to the ball and play aggressively.”
Once Jones crosses the line of scrimmage, the Bulldogs will try to swarm to the ball and eliminate his running lanes.
“He may make one or two or three guys miss, but he’s not going to make the whole team miss,” said defensive tackle Kedric Golston. “At least, we haven’t seen that on film. Hopefully, we aren’t the first team to have him make the whole team miss.”
If Thurman has anything to say about it, Jones won’t make one man miss.
“I’ll have my chances to get him,” he said.