Tennessee Football: Jauan Jennings cements himself among Volunteer legends
ATHENS, Ga. -- If Jauan Jennings hadn't already cemented his Tennessee legacy with how he helped the Volunteers end an 11-game losing streak to rival Florida, there's no doubt now.
The sophomore wide receiver made a play Saturday that will go down in program lore.
It may be the defining moment of his career, but it won't even top his list.
"Considering I'd never been a receiver until college, I'd say (No.) 2 behind burning (Jalen) Tabor," Jennings said after the game, brashly recalling his go-ahead 67-yard touchdown catch against Florida's star cornerback.
Tennessee will top the midseason list of best endings this college football season after scoring the first final-play touchdown to win an SEC game since Auburn's memorable "Kick Six" against Alabama in 2013.
Like many teams the Vols practice Hail Mary plays for situations like these.
"We catch it every time, but it's also on air," said Tennessee coach Butch Jones, referring to having no defenders.
Jones said Tennessee was "toying" with the idea of trying a hook-and-lateral kind of play for the final snap before electing to throw it to the end zone, and he credited receivers coach Zach Azzanni for shuffling the lineup in the trips formation during the timeout preceding the touchdown.
"There was no panic," Jones said. "Nobody was down. I looked the kids in the eye and I told them, 'We're going to find a way to make a play.' I told the line, 'Just give him protection and let him put the ball out there.' I wanted to put the ball in the end zone and let Jauan go up and get the football."
Jennings was asked when he knew he'd come down with the game-winning catch.
"When Coach called the play," he replied.
Quarterback Josh Dobbs did his part, throwing what Jones called "the best ball he's thrown in his career."
"They had about four guys in the end zone," Dobbs said. "You know it's coming: it's a Hail Mary at the end of the game. My job as the quarterback is just to give him a chance. Put it in their area by any means necessary. You don't want to take a sack, but get the ball to the end zone and give them a chance.
"I saw the ball come down and I thought he caught it, and then I saw everyone jumping up and down. It was disbelief that he came down with it. It's crazy, and the sideline erupted and everything."
Dobbs actually tracked down the ball when Jennings tossed it amid Tennessee's wild celebrations and clutched it close as he conducted his postgame interview.
"I was going to throw it in the stands for them for a little souvenir," Jennings joked.
The miraculous finish capped an up-and-down day for Tennessee's offense, which was without Jalen Hurd for most of the second half. The big running back was dealing with a "lower extremity" injury, according to Jones. Alvin Kamara got 16 carries in Hurd's absence.
Dobbs accounted for 256 yards and four touchdowns, but the offense could have won the game with a first down after Malik Foreman's interception with 2:10 to go.
"I'm still kind of in disbelief right now," center Dylan Wiesman said. "That's kind of where I am. From such a low to such a high, it's something I never expected, but that's what happens when you have guys like we do at wide receiver."
Jennings was a star basketball player at Blackman High School in Murfreesboro, Tenn, and though he played quarterback he was classified by multiple recruiting services as an "athlete," with many analysts believing his upside was at safety.
"If the ball's in the air in his direction," Dobbs said, "you know Jauan's going to fight for the ball."
Among four Georgia defenders Jennings won the fight and the game for Tennessee.
"Jauan is one of the most competitive players I've ever been around," Jones said, "and he wasn't going to be denied."
This article was written by Patrick Brown from Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.