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Checking the Film: Dissecting 10 of UT’s Biggest Plays

We’ll be breaking the South Carolina game from several different angles this week, but since it was a game with as many big plays as the Vols have had in recent history, we wanted to take an extra look at 10 of the biggest plays. Here they are, in chronological order from the embedded highlights at the top of the page (times listed are when the plays appear on the highlight video):

1: (:46) Josh Dobbs finds Von Pearson on a wheel route for 42 yards on 2nd and 6

This is just an incredibly well-designed play by Mike Bajakian. With Joshua Dobbs at quarterback, Tennessee has used a lot of motion and shifting by the receivers across the formation just before the snap of the ball. The idea is to give the defense three players to key on – the receiver, the running back and the quarterback – as the ball is snapped because there is a chance that any of them could have the ball. Dobbs could hand it to Pearson or Lane here depending on the call, or keep it himself and take off running. This is a pass off of that action though, and the offensive line does an outstanding job of walling off the defensive line to protect Dobbs and let the play develop. Alex Ellis also does a great job against the defensive end and actually pancakes him here. This gives Dobbs plenty of time to find Von Pearson down the sideline on the wheel route for a huge play.


2: (:59) Justin Coleman intercepts Dylan Thompson to set up Tennessee’s first touchdown

This is a great, heads-up play by Justin Coleman. Tennessee sends a six-man blitz and forces Thompson to throw the ball well before he wanted to. It’s hard to tell from this angle, but it looks like Thompson is expecting Damiere Byrd to run a streak down the sideline and just throws the ball where he thinks Byrd will be. Coleman’s coverage is excellent, however, so Byrd adjusts his route to the post. The post is actually open, but because the pressure got to Thompson so quickly, he doesn’t see Byrd change the route. Coleman has his eyes on the quarterback and is able to camp out under the football for an easy interception. This is a great example of teamwork and how the defensive line can help the secondary with pressure.

3: (1:24) Pig Howard takes the reverse and outruns the Gamecock defense for a touchdown

This play was almost stopped before it started. Brendan Downs gets beat badly by South Carolina’s defensive end, who nearly runs into Pig Howard as he goes to catch the pitch from Jalen Hurd. Luckily, the defender hesitates briefly when he sees Jalen Hurd running right at him, which allows Pig to retrieve the pitch and take off. This play actually looks like it was a designed run/pass option for Pig once he got the ball because Ethan Wolf immediately sprints along with Pig in the end zone. Wolf is wide open, but Pig knows he can beat the Carolina defender to the pylon for the score. Pig actually retreats all the way back to the 11-yard line before reaching the corner against the defender and out-racing him to the end zone.This was a well-designed play that worked out for Bajakian and the Vols in this situation.


4: (1:42) Joshua Dobbs eludes the rush and fires a strike to Pig Howard on 3rd and 10

This play is a perfect example of why Joshua Dobbs had so much success against South Carolina and why Tennessee fans should expect great things from him the rest of the season. Marcus Jackson gets beaten badly by his man, who then appears to have a clear shot at Josh Dobbs before Dobbs has even reached his drop. Dobbs doesn’t panic, however, and quickly hitches up in the pocket with two hands on the football while keeping his eyes downfield. As Dobbs clears the pressure, he fires a laser to Pig Howard, who looks to be running an 11-yard square in against the Gamecock’s zone coverage. Pearson’s underneath route sucks in the linebackers to give Pig room to run and the seam route by Daniel Helm helps run off the defender and clear space for Howard, who is then able to secure the catch and turn upfield for an additional 10 yards on 3rd and 10. This was a critical 3rd down conversion because it set up a Josh Dobbs touchdown run and gave Tennessee a 14-7 lead.

5: (2:17) Joshua Dobbs takes a quarterback draw 36 yards for the touchdown on 4th and 3

This was an absolutely huge play before the half that gave Tennessee a lot of momentum heading into the locker room. South Carolina has ten players on the line of scrimmage and six in the box. The Gamecocks have a single safety over the top and are clearly playing man-to-man on the receivers. It’s hard to know if this play was a check from the sidelines or if it was the call from the beginning, but it was the perfect play to run against this look from USC. The beauty of having a quarterback that can run is that it essentially gives Tennessee an extra player on plays like this. As I said, USC has six players in the box to Tennessee’s seven. Normally, the quarterback would hand the ball off here on a run play, which would take him out of the play and give the defense six defenders going against five offensive linemen and Marlin Lane, leaving one defender unblocked and free to make a play on the running back. But, because Dobbs can run, this play call gives Tennessee even numbers in their blocking scheme. This draw play turns Marlin Lane into a lead blocker and the Vols have six to block six with Dobbs running free.

Dobbs takes off behind Lane, but quickly sees an opening to the middle of the field and explodes for the first down. By the time he reaches the yellow line, Dobbs is already beyond all six defenders that South Carolina had in the box at the start of the play and is essentially one-on-one against the free safety. He makes short work of the safety on a cutback and then does the same to the chasing cornerback, who gets completely fooled by Dobbs’ deceptive speed. A lot of people deserve credit for this play; the receivers either blocked or ran off their defenders, the line created a great rushing lane and Dobbs showcased his speed and elusiveness for the score.

6. (2:41) Jalen Hurd catches a screen and goes Beastmode on a 21-yard touchdown

Butch Jones said that Hurd showed his skill set on this play, and he was certainly correct. This is a screen call to Hurd on fourth-and-six with the Vols trailing by 14 with under seven minutes to go. The offensive line pass sets, lets a little pressure in and then releases to block downfield for Hurd. Joshua Dobbs hangs onto the ball as long as he can and dumps it off to Hurd, who acted like he was chip blocking quickly and then turned around. Two Gamecocks are going to have a chance to bring him down – one could’ve brought him down short of the first down. Hurd does a great job running through contact from both and credit Marcus Jackson for hustling way downfield to pick up a late block. That’s a veteran move and you can juxtapose with Jashon Robertson, who doesn’t look like he knows what to do down the field. That’s why this offensive line should just get better in situations like that.

7. (3:14) Joshua Dobbs threads the needle to set up UT’s second-to-last TD

 File this one under the plays that may not be completely appreciated in this game. Knowing the odds are stacked against him and the Vols need to play perfectly to win, Dobbs makes a beautiful throw to Pig Howard to put the Vols in position to pull back within a touchdown late. Remember the situation here. The Gamecocks are going to be dropping eight into coverage regularly, making the windows even smaller to throw through down the field. They rush just three, which the o-line does a good job picking up (that hasn’t always been true this year) and he steps into a throw to Pig Howard, who was running a post route, that is right the money. By the time Howard’s feet hit the ground, there are literally five SC defenders within a few steps of him. Great effort by Howard, who catches the ball at the 13, to power all the way down to about the 3 to set up the quick score.

8. (3:32) Dobbs hits Howard again for 31 yards on the game-tying drive

Same story here. With the Vols out of timeouts and on their final drive, the Gamecocks are trying to make them earn it in smaller chunks, so they rush three and drop eight. Dobbs throws another rocket to Howard, putting it into the window the defense gives him. Again, great effort after the catch by Howard to get about 8-10 more yards. There are a lot of SC defenders around him with the eight men dropping in coverage. This was arguably the biggest play of the game-tying drive as it moved the Vols almost to midfield with over a minute remaining and gave them the chance to reach scoring range with time left instead of having to chuck a lot of deep passes.

9. (3:42) Dobbs hits Jason Croom for a 9-yard game-tying touchdown with 11 seconds remaining

Tennessee fans will remember this one for a long time as the play that sent this game into overtime. Vol fans should also remember it as another way Jalen Hurd stepped up. Hurd has the key block on the corner here to give Dobbs enough time to fine a wide-open Croom standing in the end zone. How does Croom get so open? A fair amount of blame has to go to the SC defense. There are four Gamecocks on that side of the field to cover UT’s trips formation to that side of the field. One runs with Johnathon Johnson, two follow Von Pearson out to the flat, one steps up when Dobbs rolls out and Croom, who started as the outside receiver of the trio, hooks right at the goal line. Nobody is there to pick him up. Dobbs keeps his composure despite six SC defenders eventually rushing the play, makes a nice throw and UT ties it up.

10. (4:25 & 4:43) Curt Maggitt and Derek Barnett pick up huge sacks in overtime

These might’ve been the biggest plays of the game. After Dylan Thompson had time to throw most of the night, the Vols really clamped down in the final minutes of regulation and in overtime.

• On the first, the Vols bring pressure with six, but it’s more a case of Maggitt, who was lined up like a defensive end on this play, simply beats his man around the edge. It starts with a great jump – he was not offside – and timed it about as well as he could. He might’ve had the snap count timed up from earlier or maybe just guessed right.

• On the second, it’s just a case of both Maggitt and Derek Barnett simply beating the SC offensive tackles on what was a four-man pressure from UT. Both get around them with ease, and it’s Barnett that grabs Thompson front behind and brings him down. If he hadn’t Maggitt was a step away from doing it himself.

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