ATHENS, Ga. — Butch Jones claims he knew Jauan Jennings would come down with it.
Joshua Dobbs knew it was a touchdown when he saw Jennings go up.
Jennings said, well, that he “just went up.”
After a magnificent final couple of minutes in the fourth quarter of Tennessee’s 34-31 last-second win over Georgia on Saturday, the Vols are now firmly atop the SEC East. But this 43-yard heave as time expired had a destiny-like feel to it. It was almost as if fate — and an undisciplined celebration penalty after the Bulldogs’ dramatic touchdown with 10 seconds left, coupled with an offside flag on the ensuing kickoff — was on Tennessee’s side.
According to ESPN Stats Information, Tennessee’s chances to win was 0.23 percent after Georgia kicked an extra point to go up 31-28 with 10 seconds left. Based on win probability, Tennessee’s comeback was the fourth-most improbable win by a Power 5 school in the past 10 seasons. Before the Hail Mary, Tennessee had a 1.7 percent chance to win, meaning that one play was worth 98.3 percent points in win probability.
Let’s dive into it:
Moments after a Jacob Eason Hail Mary of his own gave Georgia a 31-28 lead with 10 seconds left, Georgia was flagged for celebrating, pushing the ensuing kickoff back 15 yards. Evan Berry then returned the short kick 20 yards to Georgia’s 48, but an offside penalty by Georgia on the kick moved the ball to the 43.
After a timeout, where Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzani scoped out Georgia’s defensive personnel and put three receivers to the left, Dobbs took the shotgun snap, dropped back to nearly his own 45, and with Georgia sending three pass-rushers, he stepped up to about Tennessee’s 48 and chucked the pass to his left. The ball sailed into the left corner of the end zone, where Jennings was surrounded by six Georgia defenders and two teammates.
Dobbs: “We have different guys set up in the end zone, inside the box, so my job is to put it on the middle man — the jumper — and when you’re supposed to get to the end zone, just go up and make a play.”
The 6-foot-3 Jennings, who was a former quarterback and basketball player, leaped in front of three converging Georgia defenders and snagged the ball over cornerback Quincy Mauger before linebacker Lorenzo Carter fell down on him.
Jennings: “On this particular play, I’m kinda like the back man. The ball just [came my way] and I grabbed it.”
Dobbs: “It was a crazy play, stuff you dream about. It was absolutely amazing. It was a great play by Jauan, just going up in the air and coming down with it and securing it.”
Defensive end Corey Vereen: “Basically, I saw him throw it up, I saw Jauan, and I knew he was going to catch the ball.”
Defensive lineman Derek Barnett: “I just saw Jauan go up, snag on a bunch of people. Jauan made a helluva play.”
Tennessee’s bench erupted, making a beeline to Jennings, while coach Butch Jones keeled over in joy and relief.
Jones: “I told our kids in the huddle, ‘We’re gonna come down with it. We’re gonna find a way.’ Josh threw the best ball of his career and what can I say about Jauan Jennings? He wasn’t going to be denied. He has a good little vertical to him.”
On what they saw …
Jones: “Kinda surreal. I saw the ball — tight spiral, had good lift — I thought we had a good chance. It’s one of those moments in time that you’ll remember forever. … From my vantage point, I could see him come down with the ball, landed on his back. All I could see was a mad rush to the field. All I was worried about was replay, but there was no replay needed. Something I’ll remember for a lifetime.”
Dobbs: “They had about four guys in the end zone. You know it’s coming. My job as the quarterback is just to give them a chance, put it in their area by any means necessary. When he came down with it, it was crazy and the sideline erupted. Jauan got picked up, throws the ball over to the sideline, so I had to run and get it.”
Safety Todd Kelly Jr.: “Shoot, I saw the ball in the air and I thought the ball was in the air for about 30 seconds. Then, I saw Jauan leap up like he does and everything. He plays basketball in the team room and dunks the ball like it’s so easy, so when he went up for it, I kinda had a feeling he was going to come down with it.”
Linebacker Colton Jumper: “I think I was sitting on the bench and looking at the Jumbotron. I saw everybody go up for it, but on the Jumbotron, you couldn’t really tell [if anyone caught it]. I saw everybody going crazy and I was like, ‘Did we actually come down with it? Is this actually happening?’ It’s just chaos from there.”
Jones: “There was no panic, nobody was down, and I looked the kids in the eye and told them we’re going to find a way to make a play. I told the line, just give him the protection and let him put the ball out there.”
Any thought to any other type of final play?
Jones: “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 get it. … I 100 percent, firmly believed we were gonna catch that.”
How’d that thing work in practice?
Jones: “We catch it every time, but it’s also on air.”
So, Jauan, what’s your vertical?
Jennings: “I don’t know my vertical, exactly. I just know, go get it.”
So where does this one rank?
“I’d say two, behind burning [Florida DB Teez] Tabor.”