Defensive highlights have been hard to come by for Notre Dame this season, but Jarron Jones has managed to mash seemingly a season’s worth of highlights into his past two games for the Fighting Irish.
The nose guard received both the game ball and high praise from his head coach after his wrecking ball-like performance in last Saturday’s win over Miami. Jones’ 7.0 tackles featured 6.0 tackles for loss (all solo), while also recording a sack and a pass break-up in the three-point win over the Hurricanes.
“He was a beast,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said of Jones afterward.
Jones celebrated Halloween on Monday by trick-or-treating as Snow White. Somewhat fitting, considering the 6-foot-5 fifth-year senior made Miami’s offensive front look more like the Seven Dwarfs as he tossed them aside while dropping Hurricanes for losses in the backfield that totaled 33 yards.
Like the rest of the Fighting Irish defense, Jones has only seen greater results in recent weeks. Through Notre Dame’s first four games, when Brian VanGorder was still defensive coordinator, Jones had just 12 total tackles and just one for loss and no sacks.
VanGorder’s defense was a base 4-3 set, but Kelly and interim defensive coordinator Greg Hudson have moved to a base 3-4 in the four games since VanGorder was fired. The move has allowed Jones to be isolated more in one-on-one matchups with the center =- a matchup that has seen him blossom exponentially.
“It lets me get loose a lot more,” Jones said this week of the switch in scheme. “(I) get penetration and do what I do. Playing in this scheme is a huge benefit.”
Jones has recorded 9.0 total tackles, including 7.0 for loss and 2.0 sacks, and has forced and recovered a fumble and notched a pass break-up in his last two games against Stanford and Miami. He had no sacks in Notre Dame’s first six games of the season.
“He’s got all the NFL teams now interested in him,” Kelly said of Jones this week.
The 6.0 tackles for loss Jones had against the Hurricanes are the most by any FBS player in a single game in 2016. The most TFL in an FBS game since 2000 is 8.0 by North Carolina State’s Nate Irving. Jones is tied with the likes of Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald for the fourth-most in a game.
Jones is revving back into top form this fall after missing all of last season with a knee injury. His 8.5 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks this year have already surpassed his former career-highs of 7.5 and 1.5, respectively, which he set in 2014.
The task for the Irish defense over the next couple of weeks will change a bit with option teams Navy and Army on the schedule. While the offensive look will be different, Jones’ approach won’t be.
“We’re not going to get into a read-react thing with him,” Kelly says. “He’s a big fella and he makes all his plays being explosive.”