Legendary Tennessee coach General Robert Neyland once said that “you never know what a football player is made of until he plays Alabama.”
Joshua Dobbs found out a little bit about himself the past couple years against the Crimson Tide.
Both of the past two matchups against the Tide have marked significant moments for Dobbs. After a string of injuries hit the quarterback position in 2013, Dobbs, a true freshman at that point, got thrown into the fire in Tuscaloosa late in a 45-10 loss to Alabama. He completed 5-of-12 passes for 75 yards and ran three times for 19 more yards. Not huge numbers, but for an offense that was stagnant all day, it was a nice sign.
“I remember a lot,” Dobbs said of that baptism-by-fire in Tuscaloosa.” Second half came in and played a little bit. I did some good things and needed to improve on some other things. It was a learning experience, and obviously I’ve matured a lot since them over the past two years.”
Dobbs finished out that season as the starter, showing more glimpses of potential, but not enough to lock down the starting job heading into 2014 with Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman back from injury.
After losing the QB battle in camp in 2014, coaches looked to redshirt Dobbs. That plan remained in place until Worley went down in the Ole Miss game with a shoulder injury one week before facing the Tide. Peterman got the starting nod the following week, but it was Dobbs who truly stepped up when he came on in relief a couple series into the game.
Alabama raced to a 27-0 lead. But by the time Dobbs got in, settled down and took full command of the offense, Tennessee mounted a comeback effort. The Vols cut Alabama’s lead to 27-17 in the second half before eventually falling 34-20. Dobbs completed 19-of-32 passes for 192 yards, two touchdowns and an interception and added 75 yards on the ground. An offensive line that was extremely shaky all season finally settled in a bit with a running quarterback in place to help it out. as well.
Dobbs parlayed that performance into a full-time starting job and a 4-1 finish to the season. On Monday, Butch Jones reflected on how much Dobbs has grown since that first opportunity in Tuscaloosa.
“First of all, you just have to look at the before and after pictures of his body and how much he has matured from a physicality standpoint, putting the extra weight that he needs on,” Jones said. “Obviously, there is no [substitute] for live game repetitions. He has those now. A high level of confidence that he plays with and the players around him and the confidence he has in the players around him. It is completely different. Josh has earned that right and because he has worked very hard with that.”
And now with Dobbs at the helm of a program that needs another big win to validate that the Vols truly are on the verge of becoming elite again, he has an opportunity to start the next chapter of his career with a big performance in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. The results were extremely promising last week against Georgia as Dobbs used his feet and arm to pile up over 400 yards of total offense and five touchdowns in the come-from-behind win over the Bulldogs.
The degree of difficulty rises significantly, however. Alabama leads the SEC in total defense, interceptions, pass-defense efficiency, rushing defense, takeaways and is second in scoring defense
Perhaps this Alabama game marks the next milestone in Dobbs’ career. It’s a series where he made his debut, became a breakout player and proven starter and maybe this is the weekend he vaults into more historic territory in UT football. Wins over Alabama have rarely come easy. They haven’t come at all for UT since 2006.
But as Neyland said, Dobbs can show what he’s made of against Alabama.