Jones, Gorillas not yet satisfied
By Huey Counts, Jr.
As satisfying as the first eight games have gone for the Pittsburg State defensive tackle J.R. Jones, his teammates and his coaches, they are still not celebrating.
The unbeaten and second-ranked in the AFCA coaches poll Gorillas, who still have some work to do to win at least a share of their first MIAA championship in seven years, went back to work Sunday to prep for this weekend’s showdown against No. 9 and once-beaten Washburn.
Saturday’s game starts a two-game stretch where Pitt State can punch its ticket to its second unbeaten MIAA title of the decade. After Washburn, the Gorillas close out their regular season against Missouri Southern.
“At the first of the season, we just started buying into what the coaches were selling, really,” says Jones, a 6-foot-1, 315-pound senior run stuffer. “We just need to keep buying into what they’re telling us.
“Right now I feel pretty good where we’re sitting but at the same time we can’t get relaxed.”
Jones is correct. The slightest letdown against Washburn could mean the end of both conference title dreams and, depending on how the next two weeks shake out in Super 4 Regional, a longed for return to the playoffs.
“Well, the playoffs are on my mind, they are,” Jones says.
There’s no denying this is the type of game that makes college football great. All the ingredients for a classic, slobber-knocker of a game exist.
Perhaps the best thing about the matchup is that the NCAA Division II statistics show that PSU is top 20 in nearly every defensive category, including No. 9 in scoring defense (16.1 points per game), while Washburn grades out even higher on offense, and is eighth in scoring offense (40.4 ppg.)
All those PSU defensive stats mean little to Jones. Not the No. 11 in total defense or the No. 15 in run defense. Not the 14th in sacks or even the No. 2 in passing efficiency defense.
“I hear people say we’re a good defense, but in my mind I don’t get into that,” he says. “I take the mindset that we’re not that good and that we’re striving to get better. Every day we try to get better.”
Dane Simoneau, Washburn’s extremely accurate 6-3 triggerman, already has accumulated 29 2,822 passing yards and 29 touchdowns in his senior campaign for the 8-1 Ichabods.
Should he accumulate 253 yards of total offense this weekend, Simoneau will pass former PSU quarterback Neal Philpot for the third spot in MIAA career total offense.
“I treat (Simoneau), I treat everybody, as if they’re an NFL quarterback,” Jones says. “I prepare that way. That’s my mentality, never underestimate another man.”
Jones level-headed mentality and tireless work ethic are reasons he’s been a vital cog for the PSU defense since arriving on campus after a redshirt season at Hutchinson Community College in 2007.
After playing a reserve role his first two years, the former Norcross, GA., high school standout has started 20 consecutive games for PSU. After the past two so-so seasons, he’s pleased that his final one has taken a huge uptick.
“From where we were last year to where we are now is pretty big,” he says. “We now have some of those people who doubted us on the bandwagon.”