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Why The Jennings Catch Almost Didn’t Happen

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Tennessee Athletics
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Jauan Jennings’ Hail Mary reception at the end of Tennessee’s 34-31 win at Georgia on Saturday will go down as one of the most iconic plays in Tennessee history.

If not for a series of events, including a last-minute swap, it very well may not have happened.

Of course, UT needed a celebration penalty on Georgia on the previous touchdown to set up a short field. Evan Berry took advantage of that on a kickoff return setup that Butch Jones said UT’s had for three years, but has never used. Then Georgia tacked on five yards via an offsides call on the kickoff, putting UT in prime range to heave up the desperation pass.

But Jones had several options at that moment as the Vols took over at the Georgia 43. One would’ve been to send Aaron Medley out to try an extremely long 60-yard field goal attempt that would’ve tied it. Jones passed.

Another option, according to him, was to try a trick play.

“We were kind of toying with doing a lateral type play, but I wanted to put the ball in the end zone and let Jauan go up and get the football,” Jones told reporters in Athens after the game.

That led UT to keep the offense on the field for a deep shot. Again though, it almost played out differently. UT originally lined up trips to the left with Josh Malone, Ethan Wolf and Josh Smith. Jennings, in the original formation, was alone to the right side of the field. Jones took a timeout, and that’s where the shuffling occurred – setting up the iconic play.

After the break, Jennings shifted to the left side of the formation, where he was joined by Jason Croom and Smith. Malone, this time, took the spot on the right side.

“I give Coach (Zach) Azzanni credit,” Jones said. “We called a timeout to see how they were aligned and he shuffled the lineup on the trip side and those are things that people don’t realize. Coach Azzanni put him in position to make that play, so did Joshua Dobbs, and Jauan came down with it.”

“We practiced it somewhat in training camp a bunch, but we practice it once a week on our Thursday or Friday practice,” Jones added. “Again, there’s a lot that goes into it from the spacing of the individuals. Everything is about the protection that our offensive line gave, but the ball that Josh Dobbs gave was … what can I say? It’s a player making a play. A great player made a great play.”

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