Tennessee Stat Book
Georgia stat book
The ball doesn't have to be perfect.
All it has to be is close.
Tennessee tracks every ball thrown to its receivers, but the emergence of freakish freshman Justin Hunter has already forced it to develop a separate set of standards. There's a pretty clearly defined passing window for everybody else, but all it really takes when the Vols look to Hunter is that the ball ends up somewhere relatively near him on Saturday at Georgia (TV: WVLT, 12:21 p.m.).
"It's something that we kind of anticipate with him now every time, to make those tough catches," UT quarterback Matt Simms said. "It's funny because they kind of judge us on our accuracy chart in practice sometimes and one of the coaches one day asked, 'Does the quarterback accuracy chart change when you're throwing it to Justin?' (Quarterbacks coach Darin) Hinshaw looks at me and goes 'Yeah, it does.'
"It's a little bit different for him because he can adjust to the ball in so many different ways in the air. We anticipate him making those plays all year long for us."
Hunter hasn't had a chance to make all that many yet for the Vols (2-3, 0-2 SEC), but in a role that's continuing to grow, the tall, springy target has already shown the athleticism that had the entire program raving during fall camp.
Through five games, Hunter's limited action has almost exclusively focused on deep patterns down the field - but that's been enough to get him six catches that have covered an average of 21 yards, one of them going for a touchdown. He also went on the road to LSU last week and made an acrobatic grab down the right sideline for 37 yards and a critical third-down conversion, yet another sign he might be ready for a heavier workload.
Based on his appearance in three-receiver sets in practice this week and continued praise from his teammates for his big-play ability, the Vols appear ready to unleash Hunter even more against the pass defense of Georgia (1-4, 0-3 SEC), which ranks last in the conference in efficiency.
But no matter how tight the coverage or accurate the pass might be for Hunter, so far there's been a clear winner when the ball is headed his way.
"When it comes down to the time that I need to make a play, coach calls on me and he throws it up and I have to come down with it either way," Hunter said during his first meeting with the media at UT. "It's mine. No matter what, I've got to get it. It's my job to get it. You go through that in practice and coach says the ball has to be yours.
"It's not the quarterback's fault if you mess it up. You have to go get it."
Few players have the ability to go do it quite like Hunter, one of the best high, long and triple jumpers in the country coming out of high school. And he's also shown off his impressive speed early, putting himself in the mix as an option on special teams after a 12-yard punt return against UAB.
Hunter's even quieted perhaps the biggest concern about his ability to contribute early, packing on eight pounds to his slight, 6-foot-4, 186-pound frame and not showing any shyness around contact.
"I've heard that a lot but people are starting to change their minds now since they've seen I can take a hit," Hunter said. "I'm not just a track guy. I'm also a football player. That's why I like to play receiver."
Hunter's knack for making tough catches also makes it easier on his quarterback, which figures to give him a chance to run a bit more often on the football field as well.