Despite catching three touchdown passes in 2021 and co-starting with Princeton Fant at tight end in the most productive offense in Tennessee Football history in 2022, dumb (bad) luck kept Jacob Warren from scoring last year. His TD drought ended Saturday.
In the Vols’ 49-13 win over the Virginia Cavaliers to open the season, Warren caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Joe Milton III early in the fourth quarter, one that put them up 42-10 at the time. The catch was on a slant with UVA caught in man coverage.
“I think there was a little bit of miscommunication as to who was going to end up taking me, who was going to end up matching it out,” he said. “Linebacker ends up flowing out and kind of runs past me, ball gets snapped, I’m able to get inside leverage which is what you want when you’re trying to work the middle of the field, and I knew that it would be there.”
McCallan Castles, who is replacing Fant as Warren’s co-starter, had a key 16-yard grab earlier in the game and almost scored before even Warren. That was on a key 90-yard drive to spark UT’s second touchdown of the game to go up 14-0 in the second quarter.
Warren’s score was his first since a key 18-yard grab in 2021 at the Kentucky Wildcats, the signature victory of Josh Heupel’s first year on the job. He stressed the importance of running the right route given the opportunity and said it was a long time coming.
“Joe (Milton III) put a good ball on,” he said. “It was like, make the catch, focus to the end of it, make the catch, secure it, and then celebrate a little bit too.”
It wasn’t like Warren’s production decreased last year with no touchdowns. Only 16 yards separated his total production on the receiving end in 2021 and 2022. The issue was just about the opportunities available when he was on the field.
“You’re like, okay, my first of all, am I getting opportunities? Second of all, am I able to capitalize on them, or is it my fault that I’m not scoring? Like, what is it?” he said. “There’s a couple situations last year where I could have but didn’t, but at the end of the day, you just want opportunities.”
Warren also acknowledged the weapons Tennessee Football had at receiver made it difficult. The Vols had two players selected in the 2023 NFL Draft at the position, each of whom had a 1,000-yard season with them under Heupel.
“If Jalin Hyatt’s running and he’s he’s having a good game and you can throw him five touchdowns and he can just run run by everybody, like, why would you not?” he said. “As an offensive coordinator, that’s exactly what I would do, and as someone on the team, that’s exactly what I want as well. I just want to score.”
He said that his focus is to continue running his routes the same way as long as they are working. If he does, he says, things should work out on their own. Also, he hasn’t lost perspective of what’s important for Tennessee Football and his role in that.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t necessarily matter who’s doing it,” he said. “As long as we’re winning and we have more points than them, then that’s what we’re trying to do.”