With a combination of new faces and young players stepping into bigger roles in a new attack, there would still be growing challenges for Tennessee’s wide receivers this season, but after the Flights bombarded another opponent from the SEC in Saturday’s win over South Carolina, things are certainly right for this group. The movement of Hairy Jones Jr. at the slot opened things up for the Tennessee offense, and the talented Jalin Hyatt emerged with a touchdown to bring the Flights against the Gamecocks. After the 45-20 victory, the head coach Josh Heupel likened the situation to the pieces of a “puzzle” that fit together.
Jones continued his breakout performance against Missouri (seven catches for 79 yards and one touchdown) with six catches for 103 yards and a score of 21 yards to help Flights take a 28-0 lead after the first quarter. That move might have come earlier for the Southern California sophomore transfer, but he was slowed down in preseason by a hamstring injury. His movement inside allowed his post-capture ability to shine in space and complete the speed of JaVonta Payton and the size and physicality of Cedric Tillman outside.
Hyatt, meanwhile, hadn’t caught a pass since Game 1 against Bowling Green, which was marred by the two passes he didn’t catch, but had an 11-yard reception before landing a contested touchdown with South Carolina’s defensive back. David spalding draped over him to take revenge a little on the national school which did not recruit him.
“We believe in Jalin as a player,” Heupel said. “Believe in him in competitive situations. He’s only going to keep improving. The tough thing for us as an offensive unit, whether it was the missing spring ball guys, the missing training camp guys, the puzzle could never really be put together. We had guys who did a great job at the start of training camp and then all of a sudden missed a couple of weeks before the first soccer game and weren’t ready to play until the second week.
“As young as we are in this attack, and some of them are young just like soccer players anyway, it just took us a little while to piece things together. Velus has the ability to play football. “indoors and outdoors, believe it in both places. We also have a lot of great kids slots that we believe in. Jalin had a great day today.”
The second finished with three catches for 21 yards and the score, and on top of Jones’ big day, Tillman had six catches for 59 yards and Payton pushed his game streak with a touchdown to four after coming behind. South Carolina’s defense for a 39-field touchdown to follow up on Hyatt’s.
“By just being on the same page, we start to really feel good and to feel good for each other,” the quarterback Hendon hooker noted. “These guys are amazing athletes and they play great when the ball is in their hands. I’m just trying to get the ball back to them as soon as possible.
Jones said his transition to the slot machine was not a difficult transition, just a transition that required practice preparation, adherence to the learning process, and additional film sessions. Prior to his move, Flights primarily used Hyatt, year two Jimmy calloway and first year student Merrill Walker in the role. These young players produced mixed results in the first four games of the season, and Jones settled the position while dramatically increasing his production, with the Vols starting quickly the final two games.
He also said he’s trying to stay on Hyatt to keep it locked up even as his role and goals dwindle, and the young broad pulled in some big catches on Saturday.
“Jalin is like a brother to me. I call him ‘Twin’ and he’s like a brother to me, ”Jones said. “As an older brother and stuff, you just have to keep him locked in and focused, like you never know what the next game has in store for you. Injuries do happen, as we play in the SEC, it’s a physical game there. I just tell him “Lock in”, and when your moment, your chance presents itself, make sure you take advantage of it because the next one is not promised, the next game is not promised. It’s keeping him locked up and I’m giving him all the wisdom I can.
“This is my last season, he’s going to take this season by storm.”
In six games this season, Tennessee has scored 249 yards to surpass its 2020 season tally (215 points), albeit against an SEC schedule only.
“Dude, this is exciting. Scoring is fun, ”Jones said. “I can only imagine how the players felt before us that Coach Heupel was finished, so it’s an amazing feeling. Everyone is smiling. You can just feel the energy and you love that feeling, so we have to keep scoring. “