KNOXVILLE — A business trip. A serious, serious business trip. That's what Tennessee senior wide receiver Jauan Jennings sounded like he was preparing for when he met with the media Tuesday to discuss Saturday's game at Florida.
"Got to get my hair cut this week" were the first words out of Jennings' mouth as the media circled around him in the Ray and Lucy Hand Media Center.
Asked where he intended to visit the barber, he said, "the East Side (of Knoxville). Ever been there?"
You would think Jennings already has been to Gainesville one too many times. He was a true freshman in the Swamp when then-Gators quarterback Will Grier threw a desperation 63-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Callaway to make Florida a 28-27 winner in 2015. That play wasted the first-quarter TD pass that Jennings tossed to Volunteers quarterback Josh Dobbs.
When the Vols suffered an almost identical heartbreak in 2017 — UF quarterback Feleipe Franks connecting with Tyrie Cleveland on an eerily similar 63-yard touchdown strike on the final play of the game — Jennings already was lost for the season after suffering an injury in the season's opening game against Georgia Tech in Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
But Grier eventually transferred to West Virginia before graduating last year, and Franks was lost for the rest of this season after dislocating his ankle in the Gators' comeback win at Kentucky last week.
So now comes Jennings' chance at the ultimate redemption, an opportunity to post a Tennessee win in the Swamp for the first time since 2003.
"I'm definitely excited," Jennings said. "It's been a minute since I've been in the Swamp. To go back brings a whole lot of memories back, and I just can't wait to compete."
He also said: "This whole team's ready. We're fired up. Like I said, it's a road game, going into the Swamp. How else can you put it? It's an SEC game. We're going to go out there and give our all, and that's all that matters."
Jennings may be the player who matters most if the Vols are to improve to 2-2 for the season and 1-0 in the Southeastern Conference after losing their opener to Georgia State and second game to Brigham Young before blasting the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga last week.
It was Jennings, after all, who caught the pass that put the Vols ahead for good in 2016 when they came from behind to beat the Gators 38-28 in Knoxville and halt an 11-game losing streak.
It is also the 6-foot-3 Jennings who best mirrors the tall Kentucky receivers who caused Florida's secondary more than a few problems before the Gators staged their come-from-behind victory at Lexington last week.
In much the same way Jennings made two very difficult TD catches against BYU, the UK receivers used their size to overcome a very athletic Gators secondary. Jennings should be able to wreak similar havoc Saturday if the UT offensive line can give quarterback Jarrett Guarantano time to get him the ball.
To that end, redshirt senior offensive lineman Brandon Kennedy said Tuesday of the line's supposed improvement: "I think just not making the little mistakes as far as communication is where we improved at the most."
Defeating a team such as the No. 9 Gators will take improvement from almost everyone, perhaps even Jennings, who would appear to be the Vols' best pro prospect at the moment.
"I've made a few plays, but I just want to get better each week, as the games go," Jennings said. "Like I said BYU week – that was round two. This is round four and I'm just coming out to do the best that I can."
His best always has been pretty good. He now has 99 total receptions, 14 total touchdowns and at least one TD grab in each of the Vols' three games this season. His Hail Mary touchdown grab of a Dobbs pass at the close of the Georgia game in 2016 may have been the most memorable moment of the past decade of Big Orange football.
But football is never about one player. It's the ultimate team game. So if the offensive line doesn't give Guarantano time to throw against a very imposing Florida defensive front, or if the quarterback is a little off, Jennings can't work his magic.
Yet pretty much these same Vols proved a year ago that they could go on the road against a ranked SEC foe and win, UT shocking Auburn 30-24 at Auburn, thanks in no small part to two Guarantano touchdown passes and one TD catch from Jennings.
"We tried to dig deep into each other's minds – myself and Coach Chaney," Guarantano said Tuesday. "Every single play, we had a thought process through it, and we went through it. I think that it helped me a lot, and it also helped him get into my mind."
The mind of Jennings is where all the Vols need to be come Saturday.
"To go to the Swamp this year, to hopefully win," he said. "I cannot wait."
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.