Photo: Gators freshman running back Matt Jones rushed for 146 yards in the last two games.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gators running back Matt Jones was noticeably quiet for much of his freshman season.
The reason can be attributed to a pair of primary factors: 1. Senior Mike Gillislee carried most of the workload, becoming the first UF back to rush for 1,000 yards since 2004; 2. Florida coach Will Muschamp has a policy that does not allow freshmen to talk to reporters.
Still, we began to hear more of Jones late in the season – at least his footsteps. In the final two games Jones rushed 16 times for 146 yards. In the previous 10 games Jones had just 113 yards on 33 rushes.
Jones was at his best in the regular-season finale at Florida State, carrying eight times for a career-high 81 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown run that put the Gators up 37-20 late in the fourth quarter.
A workhorse at Armwood High near Tampa, the 6-2, 220-pound Jones showed flashes that he can become the type of downhill runner that can keep the chains moving in offensive coordinator Brent Pease’s pro-style offense.
“He’s a physical kid,” Pease said. “I think he demands respect when he carries the ball.”
“I wouldn’t want to have to tackle him 20 times a game,’’ cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy said late in the season.
With Gillislee’s last game coming up in the Sugar Bowl against Louisville, Jones and Mack Brown are the most experienced tailbacks on the roster. Brown had 103 yards on 25 carries during the regular season and was third on the depth chart.
While the competition for carries is expected to be open in fall camp, Jones has shown he is capable of being a workhouse back like Gillislee, who averaged 19.6 carries and 92 yards per game.
“I think given the opportunities he had, he’s done an outstanding job,” Muschamp said. “He’s practiced better. That’s hard sometimes for young players. They’ve been this big fish in the little pond and they always haven’t had to work as hard or do the things you’ve got to do at this level.
“That’s something he has continued to work on. He’s done a better job of preparing himself throughout the week and understands what it took to be successful.”
While Jones didn’t rack up the numbers that the three top freshmen running backs in the SEC did during the regular season – Georgia’s Todd Gurley (1,138 yards), Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon (847 yards) and LSU’s Jeremy Hill (631 yards) – he showed signs at the end of being in the same company.