Marquez Callaway emerges in moment of need for Tennessee offense [photos]

Marquez Callaway emerges in moment of need for Tennessee offense [photos]

Sophomore receiver steps up to fill void left by Jauan Jennings departure due to injury in game against Georgia Tech

September 6th, 2017 by David Cobb in Sports - College

Tennessee wide receiver Marquez Callaway (1) gets past Georgia Tech defensive back A.J. Gray (5) as he races to the end zone for a touchdown during the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Monday, Sept. 4, in Atlanta, Ga.

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

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ATLANTA — Tennessee entered Monday night's 42-41 double-overtime win against Georgia Tech already thin on veteran wide receivers with senior Josh Smith ruled out against the Yellow Jackets due to a shoulder injury.

The Volunteers' experience at the position took an even greater blow with the halftime announcement that leading receiver Jauan Jennings would not return because of an apparent wrist injury. Several media outlets reported Tuesday afternoon that Jennings could be sidelined for up to 12 weeks.

Tennessee's remaining healthy wide receivers had a combined 25 career receptions and no first-half grabs when they gathered in the locker room to concoct a second-half remedy for their early struggles, knowing Jennings would not be part of the game plan.

"Coach just came in and didn't really change anything on the game plan," sophomore receiver Marquez Callaway said. "He told us the plays were there and we just had to execute them. The players have to. So that's what we went out and did."

Tennessee wide receiver Marquez Callaway (1) pulls in a catch against Georgia Tech defensive back Step Durham (8) during the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Monday, Sept. 4, in Atlanta, Ga.

Tennessee wide receiver Marquez Callaway (1) pulls in...

Photo by C.B. Schmelter

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Callaway took that mission on himself.

Playing in his home state of Georgia, the sophomore from Warner Robins made his first reception of the season a leaping 10-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter that earned him a spot on ESPN SportsCenter's top 10 sports plays of the night. He followed up with three more crucial grabs, totaling four catches for 115 yards and two touchdowns.

"You saw it tonight: He stepped up," Tennessee quarterback Quinten Dormady said. "He's that kind of guy. He just puts his head down and works hard every day. I truly mean that. He's one of the hardest working dudes we have on our team. It's good for him that he stepped up and made some huge plays tonight."

Callaway is the early favorite to become Dormady's favorite target if Jennings' injury forces him to miss extended action. Tennessee hosts Indiana State on Saturday and travels to Florida next week.

The 6-foot-3 Jennings was spotted leaving the X-ray room at Mercedes-Benz Stadium during the game, and Callaway indicated that the team received bad news about the severity of the injury.

"When we first found out, we were still on the field," Callaway said. "They came out and told us, 'Jauan may not be back. His wrist is kind of messed up.' I didn't think anything too bad happened. You could tell he was depressed about it. But it's a minor setback for a major comeback. He'll be back. He's still going to be there, even though he can't be on the field."

In regard to official word on Jennings' status, Tennessee coach Butch Jones said, "We'll know a little bit more when we get back to Knoxville."

Jones is scheduled to meet with media at noon today.

The injury appeared to occur when Georgia Tech defensive back A.J. Gray struck Jennings' hands with his helmet as Jennings made a catch on a crossing route during the Vols' only scoring drive of the first half.

Jennings made three catches for 17 yards before leaving the game. Running back John Kelly and tight end Ethan Wolf were the only other players with receptions at halftime before Callaway's breakout second half.

Callaway had just one career reception entering the game. He added four big ones to that total Monday night, and he proved capable of both streaking and fighting for extra yards after catches.

"Marquez has always been one of those individuals that plays with great consistency," Jones said. "Always has energy. Always uplifting. So again, that doesn't surprise me. We know that he plays the ball very, very well in the air, and he was able to high point the ball a couple times, and he played strong."

Contact David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com.

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