Tennessee football: Freshman Jalin Hyatt the silver lining in Alabama rain cloud
Alabama 48, Tennessee 17.
Not much different than most observers expected. But if you looked closely, there were positive signs on a difficult Saturday afternoon.
First among them: Jalin Hyatt is a playmaker.
If you weren’t aware of Hyatt, that’s understandable. The skinny (6 feet, 175 pounds) 4-star wide receiver from South Carolina hadn’t made much of an impact at UT. In fact, his homestate team, the Gamecocks, didn’t bother to offer him a scholarship, despite his high school being literally down the road from Columbia. Hyatt was an early commitment to Virginia Tech, but a visit to Tennessee had planted seeds, and when Hyatt returned to Knoxville last summer, he quickly flipped to the Vols.
Like most freshmen, Hyatt has dealt with a learning curve. Through four games, he had 3 catches for 48 yards, and he didn’t seen any playing time in last week’s loss to Kentucky. But with Alabama jumping out to an early lead, the UT coaching staff threw caution to the wind and let Hyatt show his skills.
He immediately got behind the Alabama secondary, and Jarrett Guarantano found him with a gorgeous rainbow of a pass, a throw so good that it made this maddening 2-3 season seem like some kind of crazed fever dream. For one play, it looked like Shuler to Pickens or Manning to Kent. The 38-yard touchdown was the longest pass of UT’s season to date.
Of course the connection with Hyatt was the exception and not the rule in Tennessee’s Saturday experience, but in the third quarter, Guarantano came back to him again. Boom, 48 more yards on a pass. And a new longest pass play of the season for UT. And just like that, Hyatt found himself the story of Tennessee’s battle with Alabama.
“Jalin Hyatt took another step,” coach Jeremy Pruitt said after the game. “I thought he made a couple of explosive plays out there, and they struggled to guard him.”
Indeed, Hyatt had 2 of the 3 UT plays longer than 15 yards in the game. Of the many gaps between UT and Bama, that explosiveness might be the biggest. Alabama’s wideouts, even with Jaylen Waddle sidelined, were a threat to take any play to the house. The Tide had 11 plays of longer than 15 yards. But on a day when Tennessee had to marvel at the massive amount of Alabama talent on display, Hyatt might just represent a tally toward evening that particular score.
“He’s growing up,” senior receiver Josh Palmer said. “I’m excited to see what Jalin is going to bring in the near future.”
The future that Hyatt figures to shape got a lot nearer on Saturday. It feels like a matter of time until Harrison Bailey takes most or all of the snaps in Knoxville. The good news is that whenever that transition is, Bailey has one more weapon at his disposal. The results are likely to make 48-17 soon a distant memory.