History suggested Tyson Helton would change the Vol passing attack, and we’ve seen it already in the first two games. Butch Jones’ offense targeted running backs more than any team in the SEC, essentially making the tailback the number three receiver. Not only has that changed dramatically in Helton’s offense – two catches for Tim Jordan, one for Jeremy Banks – a number one receiver has emerged in ways it never did in the last five years.
Marquez Callaway has 11 catches for 141 yards in the first two games. At this pace he’ll eclipse last season’s total – when he was the number one receiver in theory – by the end of the month (24 catches for 406 yards). And through the first two games, no other Vol has more than four receptions (Josh Palmer and Jordan Murphy).
We’ll see what happens with Jauan Jennings, the presumed top target going into last season and even this one by some. But so far, Callaway is the clear preference of Jarrett Guarantano. Sports Source Analytics has Callaway with seven catches for 115 yards (29th nationally) on first down, plus three for 15 and a pair of first downs on third down. The early returns show Callaway targeted early and often.
Callaway has 36.7% of Tennessee’s total receptions and 44% among wide receivers. We never saw percentages like those under Butch Jones:
|Year||Receiver #1||Catches||Receiver #2||Catches|
|2017||Brandon Johnson||37||Marquez Callaway||24|
|2016||Josh Malone||50||Jauan Jennings||40|
|2015||Von Pearson||38||Josh Malone||31|
|2014||Pig Howard||54||Von Pearson||38|
|2013||Pig Howard||44||Marquez North||38|
(Von Pearson played only 11 games in 2014)
You have to go back to the last two years under Derek Dooley to find true number one targets. Da’Rick Rogers easily stood out in 2011: 67 catches for 1,040 yards and nine touchdowns. The following year we remember Cordarrelle Patterson fondly, but many of his highlights were in the return game and on carries. Justin Hunter was easily the top target in the passing game with 73 catches for 1,083 yards to 46 for 778 for Patterson.
I’m not sure if this offense is built for Callaway to accumulate those kind of numbers. But he is clearly the number one option in an offense that’s going to receivers far more often than we’re used to. It’ll be interesting to see how his numbers change as defenses adjust to stop him, and if Guarantano can establish the same kind of rhythm with someone else. But through two games, Callaway is on track to be the kind of top target we haven’t seen in a long time.