For redshirt senior wide receiver Jauan Jennings, this Saturday will mark the last time he’ll play the Florida Gators. And he can’t wait to make the trip down to Gainesville to play Tennessee’s heated rival.
“Definitely excited. It’s been a minute since I’ve been in The Swamp,” Jennings said on Tuesday when asked how he feels about going on the road to play the Gators. “To go back, it brings a whole lot of memories back. I just can’t wait to go compete.”
The last time Tennessee traveled down to Gainesville to face Florida, Jennings wasn’t a participant. The then-junior receiver suffered a wrist injury in the Vols’ first game of the 2017 season against Georgia Tech, and he was held out for the remainder of the year (until he was eventually dismissed from the team later that season, then reinstated after Jeremy Pruitt was hired as head coach).
Tennessee lost that game 26-20 on a Hail Mary throw as time expired, marking the first of many SEC defeats the Vols would suffer that season.
Saturday will be only the second time Jennings has played Florida in The Swamp, and he’s hoping for better results than the first time he and his teammates made the trip down to Florida. That came back in 2015, and that game also ended dramatically with Florida connecting for a touchdown on a fourth down play and UT missing a 50-plus yard field goal just inches to the right as time expired.
With it being Tennessee’s first SEC game of the season and Jennings’ first time traveling down to Gainesville since 2015, is he putting any more importance on this game?
“I love any game period. Y’all know me by now; I’m just a competitive kid,” Jennings stated. “But to go in The Swamp this year, to hopefully win? I cannot wait. I definitely cannot wait. That’s going to be a big testimony to this team what we can accomplish.”
This weekend’s game will mark the fourth time Jennings has played the Gators in his UT career. He’s only been able to celebrate a victory one time over Florida, and that came in Neyland Stadium in 2016. Otherwise, Jennings has been a part of a 28-27 loss in Gainesville and a 47-21 loss in Neyland last season.
Saturday will be Jennings’ final game against Florida in his Tennessee career. It would mean quite a bit to him to be able to come away with a victory.
“It would mean a lot. It would be the first SEC game of the year, the first SEC win,” Jennings explained. “Like I said, it’s Round IV, and I’m ready to kick it off.”
Though Jennings has only made the trip to Gainesville once before, he’s arguably the most experienced Vol player on the roster. He and linebacker Darrell Taylor and long snapper Riley Lovingood are the only redshirt seniors on the roster who have spent all five seasons at Tennessee. Jennings has played the Gators three other times, and Saturday will mark his 41st game he’s played as a Vol in his career.
Jennings knows how to prepare for a game, and he knows what preparing for a big rivalry game is like. According to the veteran receiver, his message to the younger Vols on how to prepare for Tennessee’s match-up with their SEC East rival doesn’t change from other games, though.
“It’s always the same message: You gotta prepare to win,” Jennings said. “This week, that’s all that we’re gonna be doing. We’re gonna prepare our asses off this whole week and come out there Saturday ready to execute.”
After Tennessee’s season-opening loss to Georgia State, Jennings grabbed headlines when he proclaimed the following week that something like that would never happen again. Jennings said he was going to take charge as the team’s leader, and the lack of energy and effort he saw against the Panthers to begin the season wouldn’t happen again as long as he was a Vol.
When asked how the energy levels would be for him and his team down in Gainesville, Jennings lit up with excitement.
“The levels are gonna be crazy. We’re gonna have lots of energy,” Jennings explained. “We’ve been having lots of energy since that last game I told you we were gonna come out with lots of energy. This whole team is just ready. We’re fired up.
“It’s a road game, we’re going into The Swamp, it’s Florida. How else can you put it? It’s an SEC game. We’re going to go out there and give our all. That’s all that matters.”
Saturday will mark the final time Jennings will be able to make some memories taking on Florida in the orange and white. Jennings already has several highlights against the Gators in his career, including a 58-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Josh Dobbs in the 2015 game and a career-high 111 receiving yards and a touchdown against the Gators in the Vols’ 2016 victory.
The fifth-year senior also has one of the more memorable plays in recent UT history from that 2016 game, a play where he burned Florida cornerback Jalen “Teez” Tabor for his touchdown.
But Jennings chose not to focus on that memory on Tuesday. Instead, he remembers just beating the Gators in 2016 as his favorite memory of the rivalry, and he’s focusing on trying to do that one more time as a Vol.
“My fondest memory against Florida? I guess I’d have to say just winning,” Jennings said. “I don’t really have any fondest memories, not any, I’m sure, that you don’t know about.
“I’m just ready to go out there and ball this Saturday.”