When Josh Dobbs earned the starting quarterback nod for the 2015 season, many Vol fans wondered how he would hold up starting the first full season of his career. The junior had thus far only started games in the last third of the schedule due to starting quarterback Justin Worley sustaining season-ending injuries both times. This year would be the first time Dobbs was at the helm from the very beginning of the season. And up until the last couple weeks, Dobbs had sustained all the hits and abuse of a rugged SEC schedule.
Now, however, Dobbs is starting to show the effects of those hits.
Head coach Butch Jones has said that Dobbs has been banged up and has been limited because of it over the last two weeks in games against South Carolina and North Texas. Arguably the most dangerous aspect of Dobbs’ game, his running threat, has been largely eliminated because of him being roughed up. Dobbs has carried the ball 17 times for just 38 yards over the last two weeks and hasn’t had a run longer than 10 yards in that span.
A limited Dobbs hasn’t hurt the Vols too badly over the last two weeks. The Vols had a closer-than-expected game against South Carolina and looked flat against North Texas, but Tennessee ended up on top in both of those. If Dobbs can’t be multi-dimensional in the last two games of the regular season, however, the Vols will have more trouble pulling out victories.
Over the last two seasons, Dobbs had some of the worst performances of his career against Missouri and Vanderbilt, Tennessee’s last two opponents of 2015. In four combined games over the last two years against the Tigers and Commodores, Dobbs completed 61 percent of his passes for just 580 yards, which means he’s averaging just 145 passing yards against Missouri and Vanderbilt. Not only that, but Dobbs has thrown just one touchdown pass in four career games against the two teams compared to seven interceptions.
Dobbs’ poor games against Missouri and Vanderbilt in the past have come without him being banged up after a long season. Add in his injuries to this season’s match-ups, and the outcomes don’t look promising.
The Vols need Dobbs at his best in order for the offense to operate at peak efficiency. Tennessee hasn’t looked the same on offense over the last couple games, and that’s been due in large part to Dobbs becoming one-dimensional. The running game as a whole has suffered because of the lack of Dobbs being a running threat at quarterback, and running back Jalen Hurd has especially felt the effects of that. Hurd’s 4.3 yards-per-carry average in the last two games is below his season pace, and he has totaled just 86 rushing yards over his last five quarters of play. The read-option play that was so effective against defenses early in the season hasn’t been nearly as dynamic over the last two games because Dobbs hasn’t kept the ball as often, allowing defenses to key in on Hurd easily.
But it’s not just Dobbs’ running game that needs to improve over the next couple of games.
All season, the passing game has struggled with consistency. Dobbs and his receivers have had some promising moments, but they’ve put out some clunkers as well. Dobbs has thrown for over 230 yards four times this season, but he’s also had five games where he’s thrown for less than 175 yards in a game. If Dobbs can’t use his legs like he’s accustomed to in these remaining two regular season games, he needs to be able to pass the ball with better accuracy. It’s a problem he’s had against both Missouri and Vanderbilt before, and both opposing defenses are good against the pass again this year. Both Missouri and Vanderbilt are allowing less than 200 passing yards a game this season and are both in the top six in the league in that category.
The Vols don’t need to win out to become bowl eligible like they have in recent seasons. That feat was accomplished last weekend against North Texas. But simply winning “just enough” isn’t the goal at Tennessee, and winning out would put the Vols above the seven-win mark, a place they haven’t been since 2007. But in order for the Vols to get there, they need their CEO quarterback, Josh Dobbs, to improve his play against the two opponents who have given him the hardest time in his career.