Jordan, Jones in bowl runoff

Maryland, Va. hopes rest on 2 running backs

November 20, 1999|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- LaMont Jordan vs. Thomas Jones.

Ron Vanderlinden vs. George Welsh.

Maryland vs. Virginia.

Throw in some important bowl implications for both teams and there will be a lot of drama today at Byrd Stadium at noon.

The Jordan-Jones matchup at running back is the headliner.

Virginia's 5-foot-10, 207-pound Jones, a senior, is the leading rusher in the nation with 170.7 yards a game and is making a late run for the Heisman Trophy. Jones also tops the country's Division 1-A schools in all-purpose yards with 195.1 a game.

Maryland's 5-11, 216-pound Jordan, a junior, is sixth in the nation in rushing with 132.6 yards a game and he is 15th in all-purpose yards with 153.4 a game.

Both Jones and Jordan have been overshadowed this season by Wisconsin's Ron Dayne, who broke Ricky Williams' career Division 1-A rushing record last week by reaching 6,397 yards.

However, Jordan said it is Jones he has been watching on tape all season.

"In my opinion, this game gives me an opportunity to go up against probably the best running back in college football," Jordan said this week. "I can honestly say he has a lot more moves than I do. I've tried to do some of the things he does and I've almost hurt myself.

"Giving Ron Dayne his respect, I think Jones is the most underrated runner in the country. To go head-to-head with Jones in such a big game with a lot of fans watching is great."

Jordan said he believes both he and Jones are "situational" runners. "If he has to run over a guy, he'll do that," said Jordan. "Or he can make a guy miss and outrun him if he has to. I think this Virginia game will come down to whichever one of us gets the most yards in any form as long as everything else is equal."

Jordan said he and Jones are not close friends but "we talk every time we play before and after the game."

Jordan, like Jones, has run over, around and past would-be tacklers this season and has shown some spectacular moves no one saw in his freshman and sophomore seasons.

The primary difference between Jordan and Jones is the 77 more times the Virginia star has carried the ball. Jordan averages 5.8 yards a carry to 5.6 for Jones.

They can catch the ball, too. Jones has 20 receptions for 227 yards and is 0-for-2 passing the ball. Jordan has 19 receptions for 208 yards and is 2-for-3 as a passer for 60 yards and one touchdown.

Jones has an edge in rushing touchdowns, 16 to 14.

The last-ditch Heisman push by Jones has been accomplished mostly on his own, with very little promotional help from the school.

"There's no question we could have done more in the summer [to promote Jones]," said Welsh. "In the future we should think a little more about it [pushing a player sooner]. We've been so team-oriented here through the years. I still think the team comes first."

Making the Jones story even more intriguing is that he graduated from Virginia in just three years, getting a head start by transferring about a dozen credits from Powell Valley High School in Big Stone Gap, Va.

That academic feat has even amazed Welsh.

"You know how tough it is to transfer credits to Virginia," said Welsh. "Of course, going to summer school helped him make it in three years. It's hard to think you would ever come across anyone more dedicated to his academics and athletic pursuits as Thomas is. He has a lot of God-given ability but he has worked hard to make himself bigger, stronger, quicker and faster."

Vanderlinden said of Jones, "Boy is he good. He's as good as anybody I've seen on tape. He can start and stop on a dime."

Vanderlinden also said he longs to have a balanced attack like Welsh has at Virginia.

"I'd like to see us have a team like that," said Vanderlinden.

If Maryland wins, it will most likely get a bid to the Aloha Bowl but will have to wait until Monday before that invitation is extended. The Atlantic Coast Conference hasn't cleared Maryland from possible appearances in the Micron PC or Peach bowls.

Virginia is going to a bowl, win or lose. If the Cavaliers beat Maryland, they have a chance to move up as high as a Gator Bowl invitation, depending on where Georgia Tech goes.

N.C. State, Wake Forest and Clemson, like Maryland, all have to win today to be bowl eligible. The ACC has contracts with the Bowl Championship Series, Gator, Peach, Micron PC and Aloha/Oahu bowls.

Terps today

Opponent: Virginia

Site: Byrd Stadium, College Park

Time: Noon

TV/Radio: Chs. 9, 24/WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Virginia by 9

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