Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs had a memorable game Saturday in Gainesville, but likely not for the reasons you were expecting coming in.
It was his versatility and overall athleticism, not so much an improved passing attack, that was on display in an effort that almost got the Vols over the hump, but instead left Tennessee just short again in another chapter of a frustrating 11-game losing streak to Florida.
Dobbs became the first player at the FBS level to lead his team in passing (83), rushing (136) and receiving (58) yardage in a game since 2003. He was the first UT quarterback to catch a pass since Peyton Manning (1997). Those stats, while impressive overall, tell the story of the good and the bad of the game for Tennessee offensively.
The 136 yards of rushing for Dobbs was clearly a good development for Tennessee. Dobbs’ history against FBS opponents the past two years said that if he put up a fair amount of yardage on the ground, the Vols would have a good chance to win.
Dobbs averaged 12.5 yards per game rushing in his two losses as a starter over the past two years. In his FBS wins, he averaged 94 yards per game. Dobbs did more than enough with his feet to put Tennessee in position to win the game in Gainesville, and despite some of the risk (which is mitigated a bit by the fact that Quinten Dormady looks like a very competent backup), Dobbs will continue to need to run the football himself.
But the other two numbers serve more as an indictment on UT’s offense. Start with the statistical oddity of Dobbs leading the team with 58 yards of receiving. That all came on one well-designed trick or “momentum” play as Butch Jones calls it. Dobbs tossed the ball to Jauan Jennings behind the line, snuck out to the right side and caught a throwback from Jennings and then huffed it down the right sideline for the score. It was a phenomenal play – one of the best calls of the year by Tennessee.
The Vols picked up 24 yards through the air on a fourth-down jump pass from Alvin Kamara to Ethan Wolf as well. Hitting some well-timed plays like that is great. But it shouldn’t account for approximately 50% of the team’s passing attack as it did for Tennessee on Saturday.
Dobbs himself threw for just 83 yards. Only seven of those yards were to wide receivers. The starting trio of receivers Von Pearson, Marquez North and Josh Malone accounted for zero catches. Wide Receiver U looked more like Wide Receiver Who? on Saturday. There were some mitigating factors. Pig Howard was out. Marquez North left the game early due to injury. Pearson actually did have a nice touchdown grab taken off the board due to an illegal man downfield.
But even that is an example of what’s not clicking for UT right now in the passing game – it’s simply out of sorts. Dobbs wasn’t too concerned about the lack of numbers in the passing game when he addressed the media on Monday.
“Florida is known for their secondary,” Dobbs said. “They were playing man coverage. When the plays were out there we were able to convert. We had a big on a 3rd and 12 conversion on the 18-play drive that we had that put us in position to score a touchdown and we completed a ball downfield on the one minute drill. We still put ourselves in position to win the game, we just didn’t have the outcome we wanted.”
And he’s correct to an extent. The Vols did have some success when Dobbs was allowed to push the ball a bit. He hit a nice wheel route to Alvin Kamara on the final drive. The pass he mentioned on 3rd and 12 was a nice strike to an open Ethan Wolf over the middle in a crucial situation.
Massive 3rd and 13 conversion from Dobbs to Wolf. pic.twitter.com/Nnt61It6qA
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) September 26, 2015
Dobbs was about a yard off on what could’ve been a huge pass to Josh Smith at one point as well. So there’s evidence that the passing game can develop, but will the staff trust Dobbs and this underachieving group of receivers to step up and make some of those plays? Florida may be the best secondary they see all year, so better opportunities may be around the corner.
“We want to be able to throw the ball more down the field, that’s really a big part of us offensively,” Jones said on Monday. “I can tell you this: everyone wants to look to the receivers and the quarterback. It takes all 11 individuals working together. You know sometimes we have those plays called and we don’t get them off one way shape form or another. It’s not just the offensive line either; it’s 11 individuals working together as one. But we take great pride in our passing game.”
Dobbs proved that his athleticism and overall effort can put the Vols in position to compete for a win. They’ll need to progress in the passing area, however, to win regularly in the SEC this season.