ATLANTA — The spotlight won’t be new to Matthew Jones.
Two years ago, he made the second start of his career in the College Football Playoff. Saturday night, the fifth-year senior will have an even tougher task, helping Ohio State slow down Georgia superstar lineman Jalen Carter, one of the top defensive players in the country and a projected top NFL draft pick.
“He’s a great player; he does everything explosive. Overall, he’s great. I do look forward to [facing him],” said Jones, a Brooklyn native and the Buckeyes’ starting right guard. “It’s a big opportunity. I hold myself to a high level, and just do what I gotta do to execute. I’m going to give it my all.”
Jones feels he is ready for the challenge, after practicing fully for the past few weeks. He suffered what offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson termed a sprained right foot on Nov. 19 and missed the loss to Michigan. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones has played 658 snaps this season for the Buckeyes, with a grade of 77.9, and hasn’t given up any sacks.
“Since I’ve had time to actually recover and do what I had to do in the couple weeks that we had, I feel great,” he said.
The 6-foot-4, 315-pound Jones is a rarity in the playoff, the lone New York City native who is starting for one of the four teams. The former top-100 recruit out of Erasmus Hall takes pride in that.
“It’s a blessed opportunity,” he said. “Not everybody has a chance that I have now. I have to take advantage of it. Just having the opportunity to be here and to be valued as a starter and as an important player on the team, it really means a lot.”
The status of two Georgia offensive starters, wide receiver Ladd McConkey and right tackle Warren McClendon, is uncertain. Both players suffered knee injuries in the SEC Championship game on Dec. 3.
“We’ll see Saturday,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said, when asked about their status. “Hopeful to get both of them out there and hopeful both of them can play.”
Neither player would give up much regarding their progress, deferring the questions to Smart. McConkey is second on the Bulldogs in receptions with 51 for 675 yards and five touchdowns. McClendon has started 37 straight games for Georgia.