#6 (FCS) GSU (8-2) at #5 (FBS) Georgia (9-1)
Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Radio: 103.7 FM
J.J. Wilcox may never forget the first time he played against Jarvis Jones.
That day, back in 2007, Jones got the better of Wilcox when Carver-Columbus beat Cairo, 16-13, to escape with the GHSA Class AAA state championship.
These days Jones, a linebacker, is the defensive centerpiece of the No. 5 Georgia Bulldogs, who face Wilcox and Georgia Southern (8-2) Saturday in Athens.
Jones has been on Wilcox’s mind lately.
“He was a great ball player then and he’s a great player now,” Wilcox said, remembering the game in which his Cairo Syrupmakers lost the state title and scored their fewest points of the season. “Carver-Columbus won. Jarvis Jones won.”
Things didn’t go as planned out of high school for Wilcox or Jones.
Jones crossed the country to play for Southern California, but suffered a neck injury his freshman year and was not cleared to play by the USC medical staff.
Georgia cleared him to play, so he sat out 2010 with a medical redshirt and has been a linebacker at UGA ever since. There’s talk he may be the best linebacker in the country, and he’s certainly in the conversation.
Wilcox, on the other hand, came to Georgia Southern to play wide receiver.
He got a new coach in 2010 when Jeff Monken took over the program. Then he was moved to running back.
Last spring, he was moved to safety.
Wilcox now plays on the same side of the ball as Jones, and hopes things will go differently than the 2007 loss.
“Hopefully we can switch that around this year,” he said.
Wilcox understands what the Eagles are facing. Georgia has already clinched a spot in the Southeastern Conference championship game. The Bulldogs have 22 more scholarships to offer than the Eagles, millions more dollars in their budget and a crowd of 90,000 every Saturday.
“It’s a big stage,” Wilcox said. “They’re one of the top five college football teams in the nation, and you don’t get that just by laying down. They’re a good ball club.”
GSU defensive coordinator Jack Curtis has come to a similar conclusion.
“It’s the best offensive line we’ll see,” he said. “The best quarterback we’ll see. The best running backs and wide receivers we’ll see this year. It’s a tremendous challenge, but you’ve still got to approach every game the same way.”
Offensively, the Eagles will be led by quarterback Jerick McKinnon, who played running back when the Eagles faced the SEC’s Alabama in 2011.
Now, he’s got the responsibility of being the signal caller, so this one’s a bit different.
Well, not really.
“Different people take it different ways,” McKinnon said. “Definitely when you come out and you’re a leader, there’s going to be a little pressure. But our coaches are always saying that you’ve got to play with a lot of humility and a lot of effort, play for your teammates.”
The team's leading scorer and top running back Dominique Swope, who missed two weeks with a concussion and rushed four times for 98 yards and two touchdowns in last Saturday's win over Howard, is expected to play after sitting out the last three quarters for precautionary reasons.
Georgia Southern had a bit of a tactical advantage against the Bulldogs during games in 1992, 2000 and 2004, when it ran the same triple-option offense Monken brought back to the Eagles in 2010.
However lately, the Bulldogs have seen Paul Johnson’s triple option against Georgia Tech every year.
“I think the fact that they have a game plan when playing option teams certainly helps them,” Monken said. “They haven’t played one this year, and that’ll help us some, I hope.”
To Monken, whatever tactical advantage the Eagles have is negated by the athleticism on the other side of the ball. Thursday after practice, he mentioned a phrase that gets passed around the coaching ranks.
“‘Physical superiority cancels all theory,’” said Monken, who said he heard the phrase from Johnson. “They’re going to be physically superior to us, so it’s going to take our very best effort.”
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-9408.