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October 27, 2010TUSCALOOSA _ When they walked into the media room after Tuesday's practice, University of Alabama senior quarterback Greg McElroy announced that he and junior wide receiver Julio Jones would only take questions together.
When you have 12 receptions for a school-record 221 yards against Tennessee, with all but two passes from the starting quarterback, you don't mess with that kind of connection.
"Julio played a fantastic game all around," Coach Nick Saban said.
For just about every legendary Crimson Tide player there's always that one game everyone always remembers. For example, Tyrone Prothro had the catch against Southern Miss, Terrence Cody blocked the last-second field-goal attempt against Tennessee last year and Cornelius Bennett had the sack against Notre Dame.
Jones was already an Alabama legend in the making, especially after being such a prize in-state recruit from Foley, but this was the game everyone was waiting for. That it came less than two weeks after having surgery to fix a fracture in his left hand made it only more remarkable.
"I went back and after that play I went to the sideline and my hand started hurting," he said about sustaining the injury after making first reception at South Carolina. "I pressed down on my hand and it was moving, the bone was moving. I didn't tell the trainers but I told the strength coach, Coach (Scott) Cochran 'I think I just broke my hand, don't tell nobody. I'm going to wait until halftime.' I didn't want to make it a big issue."
Somehow, he finished that game with eight receptions for 118 yards and one touchdown while continuing to perform his usual duties as a wide receiver, including block downfield.
"He's made some blocks that if you saw a tight end make you'd be real happy," Saban said. "He's a real aggressive player, that's just his style."
The following week, following surgery, coaches limited him during practices and Jones was pulled against Ole Miss after he aggravated the injury while trying to catch a slant pass. Consequently, when he and Saban met the next day Jones asked that the coaches don't hold him back, that he could do everything with the pain.
"I thought he practiced like he always practices when he's healthy," Saban said. "He wasn't able to practice that way the week before. I think we practiced better as a team and think we played better as a team because we practiced better."
So how long did it take McElroy to realize that Jones was in for a big night?
Alabama's first play was a Mark Ingram run to the right out of shotgun formation that didn't go anywhere. The Tide then looked to No. 8, who lined up right, worked his way into a gap and turned toward the sideline to where the pass sailed over the cornerback and was caught before the safety could get over to help.
"It's almost, I don't want to say disrespect, any time they press Julio without a safety over the top it's like 'What are you doing?' is kind of what I'm thinking in my head," McElroy said.
"It's my job to catch the ball," Jones added. "Put it anywhere and I'll try and get it."
Did he ever, and in a variety of ways:
The record-breaking performance
2-10 A18 sideline pass, 14 yards
2-7 A35 screen, 1 yard (missed block)
3-6 A36 crossing route, incomplete (off fingertips)
3-3 T38 quick out, 6 yards
3-7 T19 incomplete over the middle (could have been reviewed)
3-10 T46 sideline catch with just toes inbound, 9 yards (Richardson great block on blitz)
2-7 T25 slant, 14 yards (defender grabs Jones' hair)
2-11 A35 quick out, 7 yards
1-10 A35 deep, single coverage, 42 yards
1-10 A50 quick in, 14 yards
3-10 T 24 incomplete (McElroy pressured)
1-10 A30 deep, single coverage, 38 yards
1-10 T 20 diving catch, 18 yards (landed on ball)
Fourth quarter (A.J. McCarron the quarterback)
1-10 A33 slant, 10 yards
1-10 A43 deep, single coverage, 47 yards
Jones didn't score a touchdown, but of his 12 receptions nine were for first downs. He had roughly 47 yards after the catch and his three deep balls helped him average 18.4 yards per reception.
"That's the kind of thing we sort of want to be able to utilize relative to the skill players that we have," Saban said about attacking downfield. "Every one of our receivers has something that he does well. The more that we put them in position to make those kinds of plays the more effective we're going to be offensively."
Oh, and the hand still hurts, a lot, especially when he makes a catch. Jones said each reception rated as a five or six out of 10 on the pain scale, yet he still topped David Palmer's mark of 217 yards set at Vanderbilt in 1993.
"That's awesome," junior center William Vlachos said. "That's crazy."
But it was just something that Jones felt he needed to do, like when he played through a sport hernia, wrist injury, shoulder injury, deep knee bruise ... you get the idea. That and speaking up more, which those outside of the football complex don't see too often but teammates say is also nothing new.
It turns out he doesn't just let his play do his talking for him.
"No, Julio talks a lot, especially around me," sophomore running back Trent Richardson said with a smile. "He doesn't shut up around me."