Look out, it’s the tight end!

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Last season, Princeton Fant caught 12 passes for 103 yards. Jacob Warren had six for 73, a grand tight end total of 18 catches for 176 yards.

This season, in two games between them: 11 catches for 112 yards.

Those 11 catches currently represent 35% of Tennessee’s total receptions, a truly wild statistic that surely will come down as the season plays on. This is not a specific feature of a Josh Heupel offense; quite the opposite, in fact. Via SportSource Analytics, last year Jake Hescock led all UCF tight ends with…9 catches for 42 yards. The year before: 9 for 87.

If you track Tennessee’s pass distribution from 2010-20, it averages out to 63% of receptions going to wide receivers, 23% to running backs, and 14% to tight ends. The biggest outliers at tight end during that time: 2016, when Jason Croom shifted to tight end and joined Ethan Wolf in getting 21 catches apiece for 19% of the receptions. And 2010, when Luke Stocker caught 39 passes by himself, and tight ends accounted for 21% of the total.

Those 39 for Stocker in 2010 are two behind the school record, held by Chris Brown with 41 in 2007. Also tied for second place with 39: Mychal Rivera in 2012, and Jason Witten in 2002. That’s the three catches per game pace both Warren and Fant are chasing early.

How long will it last? The most important thing for Tennessee’s offense, obviously, is to start connecting with receivers downfield. At UCF, Heupel’s offense averaged 76% of completions to wide receivers, with 18% to backs and just 6% to tight ends. Those opportunities have been there for the Vol receiving corps, but so far have fallen incomplete. Credit the coach for adaptation, and both Princeton Fant and Jacob Warren for not just being ready, but being difference makers against Pitt when their number was called.

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