Since 1980, Tennessee has three quarterbacks with perfect records as starters at the position. Joey Matthews won his only start in 2000, James Banks did the same in 2002, and Brent Schaeffer was 3-0 as a starter in 2004.
Now, Jauan Jennings can (technically) be added to that list.
Jennings took the first snap at quarterback for the Vols on Saturday against South Carolina, meaning he technically got the starting nod at QB for the game. He ran the ball 11 yards on that play, and he even attempted the first pass of the game. Redshirt freshman JT Shrout came into the game for the second play of the game, took the snap, and gave the ball to Jennings. The redshirt senior wide receiver then geared up and chucked a pass to Marquez Callaway, and the senior came down with it.
That pass wouldn’t count, though, as center Brandon Kennedy was too far down the field and was flagged as an ineligible downfield player.
Still, Jennings started, which means he’s technically 1-0 as a starting quarterback for the Vols. And according to Jeremy Pruitt, Jennings has the ability to run UT’s offense as a quarterback if needed.
Pruitt was asked about Jennings during the weekly SEC coaches teleconference on Wednesday, and he not only praised the wide receiver’s play from Saturday as a wildcat quarterback, but he said the veteran receiver could probably play QB all the time for Tennessee if they needed him to do so.
“Jauan done a nice job,” Pruitt said on the teleconference. “He done a nice job getting us in the right run play, looking at the fronts, and kind of gluing it together with everybody, knowing where the spots were so we can make sure we’re blocking the right people.
“Jauan’s a smart guy. He probably could play quarterback in our system all the time. He knows that much about it.”
Jennings took several snaps as a wildcat quarterback for the Vols on Saturday, and he ended up totaling 18 rushing yards on five carries out of that role. Saturday wasn’t the first time he’s been asked to play a little QB this season for Tennessee, as he operated as a potential passer against Mississippi State a few weeks ago. In that game, he was supposed to throw the ball down the field, but the Bulldogs had the play defended well. So, instead, Jennings kept the ball himself and ran for a gain of 22 yards.
The reason Jennings played as a wildcat QB on Saturday was because the Vols had to play an inexperienced and raw quarterback to start the game. Redshirt freshman JT Shrout got the actual starting nod at quarterback for the game, making his first career start as a Vol. In order to alleviate some of the pressure off Shrout, Jennings operated out of the wildcat on numerous occasions when Shrout was in the game. When redshirt junior Jarrett Guarantano was at QB, Jennings mainly stayed at wide receiver.
And he put together a career game at his more natural spot.
Jennings hauled in a career-high 174 receiving yards on seven catches, scoring twice in the game. Jennings’ 174 yards were the most by a Vol wide receiver in an SEC game in over 15 years.
Because of his success at quarterback, Jennings could see some more snaps there the rest of this season. Even if freshman Brian Maurer is healthy and ready to go against UAB and the rest of UT”s schedule moving forward, Jennings’ ability to gain tough yards and surprise with some throws can keep defenses off guard.
Jennings played quarterback in high school for Blackman High School in Murfreesboro, TN, and he’s been tasked with throwing on trick plays for the Vols before. Though he hasn’t completed a pass that’s counted this season, Jennings has attempted four passes prior to this year, completing one for a 58-yard touchdown in 2015 and another for a four-yard score in 2016. He also has 20 career rushes for 85 yards, with most of those runs coming out of some sort of wildcat role.
It remains to be seen how much Jennings will actually play at quarterback moving forward, but it’s clear that Pruitt and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney trust him to play the position if needed.