The lineage to the throne of great SEC wide receivers found its heir Saturday.
After scoring his first career touchdown on a toe-dragging grab against Georgia two weeks ago, Tennessee true freshman Marquez North had his light-switch game in a 23-21 win against South Carolina.
By now, you've seen the 39-yard, one-handed grab that was No. 3 on SportsCenter's Top 10 and set up the Vols' first win over a Top 15 team in six years. But all three of North's catches (for 102 yards) were sensational grabs.
Each game, North has grown more comfortable with his SEC surroundings. Against the Gamecocks, he showcased why Rivals.com rated him the nation's second-ranked receiver in last year's class.
He used his speed to get by defenders, he leaped high in the air twice to snag passes and he utilized the strength of his 6'4", 215-pound frame to wrestle away two jump balls.
Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley told UTSports.com:
Having a big body like he has and the athletic ability that he has, you have to have confidence in being able to go up and throw the ball on one-on-one situations. I like my chances with Marquez.
He’s made those plays since he got here. To see him go out there and do it in a game and transfer from practice … I think you’ll see his confidence continue to grow. He stepped up and made some huge plays for us.
North had been middling through the season's first five games before turning it on lately. His 21 catches for 281 yards and a touchdown are pedestrian numbers, but North displayed his full array of abilities against South Carolina, and he has all the tools to be great.
He also fits a major need for the Vols, which had to replace departed stars Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Hunter. North is a complete receiver who has the ability to stretch the field but also the physicality to go across the middle and fight cornerbacks for catches.
Every other great recent SEC receiver had one of those magical moments at some point during his freshman year that kick-started his ascent.
- Former Georgia great A.J. Green had an eight-catch, 159-yard performance against Arizona State in his fourth game.
- Alabama's Julio Jones had five catches for 94 yards and a touchdown against Georgia in his fifth college game, and that was a nationally hyped battle of freshman receivers with Green.
- The current class of the conference—Texas A&M's Mike Evans—had six catches for 123 yards against SMU in his second career game.
North's performance against South Carolina had that same vibe. Part of it was the highlight-reel grab that was nationally recognized, but mostly, it just seemed to be the type of game where Tennessee desperately had to find a playmaker, and North responded resoundingly.
He displayed the abilities that look like he is primed to inherit the crown of SEC elite once Evans eventually departs to play on Sundays.
All of those players (and fellow true freshman Laquon Treadwell at Ole Miss) had something North doesn't—an accomplished passing quarterback. North is dealing with the growing pains of learning along with Worley, who is getting the first significant snaps of his career.
Tennessee's young star is also hamstrung because everybody in UT's receiving corps has the same limited experience. Until the emergence of Alton "Pig" Howard, there was simply nobody there to take the pressure off him.
Though the UT star freshman won't post the same first-year numbers as Green, Jones or Evans, he is continuing to take giant steps in his progression and maturation. His biggest test—and Tennessee's—comes this week against Alabama.
If North continues his surge against the Tide, the nation will know his name. They will soon enough, anyway. The North Carolina native is poised to have a huge second half of the year.
“Marquez is a very explosive young man," Jones said after Saturday's win.
He exploded on the national scene Saturday and is here to stay.
All quotes were transcribed from videos posted on UTSports.com.
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