Meet Tennessee's 'Big Play Jauan' Jennings, the man behind The Catch
Jauan Jennings always planned to be in the middle of game-winning touchdown bombs.
He just planned on throwing them.
The 6-3 playmaker who played high school football at Murfreesboro High in central Tennessee was a 4-star recruit who committed early in the process to the Vols. Two of the major recruiting services ranked Jennings among the top dozen dual-threat QB prospects in the nation.
Jennings enrolled at UT as a quarterback in the spring of 2015, and went through spring drills at that position, showing great promise but entering his freshman season well behind encamped QB starter Joshua Dobbs.
In the modern SEC (see Blake Barnett and a veritable army of Texas A&M passers, among others), when the position battles get tough, the talented often hit the road for greener pastures. Not so for Jennings.
Instead, when Vol coaches approached Jennings about moving to receiver, he welcomed the transition. Scoring touchdowns as a receiver sounded better than sitting on the bench at QB.
Jennings took to his new position so well that he became the sole true freshman to start for the Vols last season. While Jennings was overtaken by more experienced receivers who were more technically sound with the nuances of the position, he still caught 14 passes for 149 yards.
He also carried the ball seven times, sometimes out of the Wildcat formation. Against Florida, Jennings even got to show his passing skills, completing a short cross-field throwback to Dobbs, who burst 56 yards for a trick play touchdown. Unfortunately, though, that touchdown was the sole score of Jennings’ freshman campaign.
Working his way up the depth chart
But when the 2016 season began, Jennings was something of a forgotten man. Fellow sophomore Preston Williams starred in the spring and JUCO transfer Jeff George is 6-6, which makes him an attractive red zone target.
Jennings was bracketed with Williams for a starting position. Again, when adversity reared its head, rather than sulk and pout, Jennings worked that much harder at learning his position and refining his skills.
For all his work, though, after three games of the season, Jennings had only six catches for just 31 yards.
Big Play Jauan
But against Florida, once Tennessee fell behind 21-0, the UT offense opened up by sheer necessity. Jennings had a couple of catches early in the game, but once the Vols had closed to within 21-17, on a first down play from their own 33, Tennessee called on Jennings.
He ran an out-and-up route on Florida’s All-American CB Teez Tabor, and left Tabor in the dust. Dobbs fired a pass deep downfield, which Jennings bobbled near the sideline, but ultimately hauled in, corrected his momentum, and finished the 67-yard route to the end zone for a lead Tennessee would never relinquish.
“Big Play Jauan” was born, and at the exact same moment, Tennessee banished its losing streak against Florida.
67 yard TD gives Tennessee the lead over Florida!
— Def Pen Sports (@DefPenSports) September 24, 2016
On Saturday, when Tennessee fell behind Georgia 17-0, it was again time for Jennings to assert himself. He made two grabs at the end of the third quarter on the drive that ultimately cut Tennessee’s deficit to 24-21.
But with 4 seconds left and Tennessee 43 yards from a victory, Jennings picked the perfect time to deliver his signature play.
In the huddle, Vol coach Butch Jones briefly considered a play with laterals, but ultimately directed Josh Dobbs to heave one final pass in the end zone toward Jennings. Jennings’s job was to go up and make a play — maybe tip the ball to an open teammate, or just maybe, snare the pass himself.
With about eight players leaping at once, Jennings, who was a high school basketball star and is noted by his Vol teammates for his hoops dunking skills, sailed above the rest, and the pass sailed right into his hands as smoothly as an alley-oop in a pick-up game.
Jennings fell to the ground with Tennessee’s victory securely cradled to his chest.
After the game, Jennings told the media that he thought he would come down with the catch “when coach called the play.”
He credited his teammates, saying of his fellow receivers that “all those veterans helped mold me and make me into the receiver I am today.”
For his part, Jennings has claimed that the “Dobbsnail boot” play ranks behind his Florida catch on his career highlight list. No matter, Vol fans are ecstatic at having a big-play stud at receiver, however he prefers to break down his highlights.
So in Knoxville, a wide receiver with exactly three career touchdown catches has now become a legend.
All Jennings does, it seems, is make huge plays.
With Texas A&M and Alabama looming large on Tennessee’s schedule, Jennings has to figure he’ll be in the thick of things again. The old QB dreams are gone, and Jauan Jennings is the biggest of big-play wide receivers looking to shine again on college football’s biggest stages.
If it isn’t exactly the way he had dreamed of it, persistence has made the reality even sweeter — and Jennings is just getting started.