Brandon Johnson’s performance a positive in Vols uninspired win
KNOXVILLE — Brandon Johnson was one of the lone bright spots in Tennessee’s 17-13 victory over Massachusetts Saturday afternoon in front of 95,324 fans inside Neyland Stadium.
But, the sophomore wasn’t focused in on his career-high seven receptions for 123 yards afterwards; he was still stuck on the one pass he couldn’t haul in.
“Man, it’s burning. I can’t seem to stop thinking about it apposed to the ones I did catch,” said Johnson of a third-down Jarrett Guarantano ball that slipped through his hands that could have went the distance in the third quarter.
“Just a ball I should have looked all the way in, as my coaches would say, I was trying to get 85 (yards) before five. I should have focused on looking the ball in and then run after the catch.”
Despite the drop, Johnson was unstoppable in the slot, a newly acquired spot this year for the sophomore, all afternoon for Tennessee (3-1).
Moving inside to the slot receiver has been a smooth transition, according to the Plantation, Fla., native, and he has made it look that way.
He surpassed his previous career-high five catches for 64 yards against Tennessee Tech last season in the first half alone, where he had six receptions for 114 yards. He had the exact amount of catches (seven) in nine games as he did against the Minutemen as a freshman a year ago.
“Definitely more comfortable,” said Johnson of his move inside. “The whole move has been pretty smooth thanks to my coaches and teammates helping me out, especially the guys who already played in the slot. They have definitely been helping me out a lot.”
Johnson credits redshirt senior Josh Smith, and even sophomore Tyler Byrd and freshman Latrell Williams, who have been more accustom to playing in the slot during their careers.
Johnson was at his best when Quentin Dormady was at quarterback. All seven of his catches came from the junior, with three being double-digit gains (10, 14, 66).
The 66-yard catch-and-go was a slant over the middle that the 6-foot-2 receiver went up to get to convert a third-and-8, which led to a John Kelly 12-yard rushing score to give Tennessee its first points in the second quarter.
“Brandon is an individual that when you think of him you think consistency every single day in practice, in the meetings and he continues to get better and better,” Tennessee head coach Butch Jones said. “He gave us a big spark.”
Johnson’s coming-out game is a resurgence that was expected when standout junior Jauan Jennings when down against Georgia Tech Week 1, ending his season with a wrist injury.
It’s one that shouldn’t fall off, but continue to increase due to Johnson’s consistency and willingness to grow. If one positive is taken away from Tennessee’s up-and-down offense Saturday, Johnson is definitely one to build on.
“I know on the one third down on the dig route, we need to catch the football there, but he’s an individual that played very sparingly last year and is part of that young receiving corps,” Jones said.
“He made some big plays in moments we needed plays. His competitive character, he understands what it is to prepare, and I think that’s probably his upbringing. His father (Charles Johnson) is one of the best Major League baseball players to play the game and won a World Series championship. He understands what it is to be driven and the way you have to work every single day.”