Why Matt Jones Will Have a Breakout Year in 2013
During Florida's journey to its first BCS bowl since 2010, Mike Gillislee emerged as the most productive Gator running back since Ciatrick Fason wore the orange and blue. Gillislee ran for a team-high 1,152 yards and 10 touchdowns and became the most dependable offensive weapon in offensive coordinator Brent Pease's arsenal.
Meanwhile, backup Matt Jones began to impress near the end of his freshman campaign. He ended the season with 275 yards and three touchdowns of his own.In the process, he put himself in position to lead the Gator backfield during Florida's upcoming season.
However, the Florida native has the chance to do much more than just lead the Gators in rushing. He has the chance to become one of the SEC's most exciting offensive superstars.
As productive as Gillislee was last year, Jones has the talent to be an even greater asset for the Gator offense. I would even go so far as to say that he can become a nationally recognized name by the end of next season. Here are five key reasons why Matt Jones is going to break out in a big way in 2013.
1. Gators' Offense is Predicated on the Run
The Gators ran the ball a lot last season. All told, they piled up a grand total of 539 carries for 2,440 yards.While that number may drop a little in 2013, the general game plan for Florida will not change. Jeff Driskel will be handing the ball off to Jones early and often in games.
Based on his average from 2012, Jones would only need 189 carries to reach the 1,000-yard plateau. That's 55 fewer carries than Mike Gillislee had last season. If Jones is given anything close to Gillislee's workload, he should surpass 1,000 yards with ease and possibly surpass Gillislee's final yardage total.
This is assuming that Jones' yards-per-carry average does not improve. However, there is a decent possibility that this number will rise as well.
The Gators' winning formula is a combination of hard running and sound defense. That will not change next season, which means that Jones should get plenty of carries and be able to put up nice numbers.
2. The Offensive Line will be Much Improved
Florida's offensive line struggled at times last season, particularly on pass protection. With three key members returning to the line this year, however, a combination of prior experience and good health should allow this unit to improve both in the passing and ground game.
Jon Halapio, Chaz Green and Jonotthan Harrison will be back in the trenches for the Gators next season. This trio should be a solid anchor for an offensive line that, despite its troubles with opposing pass-rushers, was very effective blocking the run.
The left side of the line is more of a question mark, as Xavier Nixon and James Wilson are no longer in Gainesville. Still, D.J. Humphries, Maryland transfer Max Garcia and Kyle Koehne should be able to successfully take over.
Injuries were also a big problem for this unit last season. Halapio, Green and Wilson were three of the notable linemen that were forced to deal with some type of injury.
Once the Gators hit the field against Toledo, however, the line should be the healthiest it has been in a long time. This will lend itself to better performance.
No team can run the ball without a good offensive line and the Gators should have one this fall. This can only be beneficial for Matt Jones.
3. Pressure from Kelvin Taylor
Another reason Jones should perform at a high level next season is because his job will be in jeopardy if he fails in this endeavor. Waiting in the wings is 5-star recruit Kelvin Taylor (per ESPN), who is thought by many to be the best running back recruit in this year's class.
The son of former Florida and NFL star Fred Taylor, Kelvin is a superior talent in his own right. He is a downhill runner like Jones and he has the vision and patience to complement his power.
Even with Jones getting the majority of the carries, Taylor should see a good amount of game action this season. He is talented enough to start as a freshman, but his lack of familiarity with the playbook will let him maintain his status as a looming presence on the Gator bench.
The sight of Taylor on the sideline should motivate Jones to make sure he is playing at his best. If he slips at any point, Will Muschamp and Pease will not be afraid to pull the trigger and make Taylor the lead back.
Most would agree that the SEC is the deepest conference in college football. Some of the best defenses in the country call the conference home.
Luckily for the Gators, they will not only be playing some of the worst run defenses during their non-conference schedule, but also some of the worst run defenses in the SEC.
First of all, the Gators do not have to play Alabama, which was the best run-defending team in the country last season. Among Florida's conference opponents, however, are Tennessee and Kentucky. They boast two of the worst run defenses in the conference.
Florida will also play in-state rival Miami, which had one of the least effective units against the ground game in the country. Rounding out the non-conference schedule are Toledo, Georgia Southern and Florida State. The Rockets and Eagles should not pose any challenge. In addition, the Gators proved last season that they can successfully run the ball on the Seminoles.
Yes, LSU and South Carolina will no doubt make life hard for Jones. All in all, however, the Gators lucked out when it comes to the strength of their opponents' ground defense. Jones should be able to take advantage as a result.
5. Natural Talent
Obviously, all these previous points are meaningless if the man who is leading the backfield does not have the natural talent to be a star. Jones, however, does not have to be concerned. He is a gifted back with the toughness and intelligence needed to be an offensive force.
Rivals.com considered Jones a 4-star back similar to Brandon Jacobs, based on his running style. Jones is essentially a larger version of Mike Gillislee. He is three inches taller and about 20 pounds heavier, which means he will be extremely tough to bring down. He also showed that he has great speed to complement his physical build against Florida State.
When one takes each of these factors into consideration, it is easy to see that Jones can become a big name in college football.
The Gators are lucky to have a back like Jones to pick up where Gillislee left off. He is an NFL talent that should make plenty of big plays next season.
Tyler Piccotti is a Featured Columnist for the Bleacher Report. Read more of his work by clicking here.