Jordan Jenkins apparently worked himself into a tizzy before last Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt. Whatever Georgia’s senior outside linebacker did to get fired up, he needs to keep doing that.
Jenkins said he played with an unusual edge in the Bulldogs’ 31-14 win, when he set career highs for tackles (11) and tackles for loss (5.5) and matched his career high for sacks (two). Now he’s off to easily the fastest start of his college career.
“I definitely think I was in the zone because I was hearing all my friends and family saying, ‘You just looked totally different. You looked like somebody possessed out there,’ ” Jenkins said. “I just have to find a way to keep getting in that zone every game.”
It’s not as if Jenkins has had a nondescript career to this point. He is the SEC’s active career leader in both sacks (18) and tackles for loss (35.5) and has started Georgia’s past 28 games -- nearly twice as many as the Bulldogs’ next-closest defensive starter.
But he hasn’t blossomed into the superstar that many expected him to become at Georgia (2-0, 1-0 SEC), either -- at least not until now.
Entering Saturday’s game against South Carolina (1-1, 0-1), Jenkins leads the nation in TFLs (6.5) and also leads Georgia in tackles (18), sacks (three) and quarterback pressures (seven). Judging by Jenkins’ trends in previous seasons, this might finally be the explosive season that Georgia fans have been anticipating.
“The way I’ve always started out past seasons, it was always a slow start,” Jenkins said. “I’ve never started off the bat with first game I get seven tackles and second game I get 11 tackles. I feel like I’m playing the way I’ve played at midseason in the past couple years.”
It was not just the pregame trash talking with opposing fans that served to motivate Jenkins at Vanderbilt, however. He realizes that, with each game he plays, he creeps a bit closer to the end of his college career.
That reality set in as he walked out of the tunnel for the first time this season before Georgia’s opener against Louisiana-Monroe.
“I looked into the stands and I was like, ‘One, it’s good to be back again,’ ” Jenkins said. “And at that point, I said, ‘Man, this is really it. I only have a couple games left to play in this stadium and I really want to make it all worth it.’ ”
Jenkins could already be in the NFL right now -- NFL Draft Scout lists Jenkins as the No. 42 overall prospect for the 2016 draft -- but he surprised some by electing to stay at Georgia for his fourth and final season.
It appears that his rationale was on the nose.
“I know other people have different feelings about that,” Jenkins said, “but I knew I wanted to come back, I wanted to enjoy college, I wanted to get the chance to be a senior because in my mind, I feel like your senior season, you play at a whole other level. You just play different. Every game is your last game against that team and it makes you play harder.”
It also helps that he and his teammates are developing confidence in second-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s scheme. The Bulldogs finished in the national top 20 in both scoring defense and total defense in Pruitt’s first season, but Jenkins believes those rankings could improve this fall.
“If I’m in a game and somebody’s beside me, I’m not going to worry about, ‘Is he going to do his job?’ ” Jenkins said. “We already know and we’re comfortable with each other to where there’s no question whether he’s going to do his job or not.”
Saturday’s game will be a crucial stepping stone for Jenkins and the Bulldogs. Georgia is a double-digit favorite to beat South Carolina, but the Gamecocks have won four out of the last five in the series. Georgia was also favored to win last year at South Carolina, but fell 38-35 in a game that Jenkins counts among his worst performances.
The Bulldogs remember the bitter disappointment from that game well, Jenkins said, and need to do a better job of putting away opponents than they did in last week’s game against Vanderbilt.
“If we’re up and we about have the game won, we need to really work on finishing them,” Jenkins said. “And then also this week we need to work on really not shooting ourselves in the foot. There were some times on film where we messed up, but someone else stepped up and made the play. But if that guy hadn’t made that play, it really could have hit us hard. We really have to work on really just filling out your role and not trying to do too much.”