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VOL. 38 | NO. 45 | Friday, November 7, 2014

With Dobbs at QB, Vols look set for bowl season

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As the jubilation settled this week, the University of Tennessee’s football team and its fans still savored last Saturday’s 45-42 overtime victory at South Carolina.

This week’s open date is so much sweeter for UT (4-5, 1-4 SEC) because of the stunning comeback victory.

Thank you, Joshua Dobbs.

Just when the Vols looked doomed for another loss – down 42-28 with 4:52 left in regulation – the sophomore quarterback led one of the most remarkable UT rallies in recent years.

One long drive capped by Dobbs’ TD run got the Vols within a touchdown. The next started with 1:23 left in the game at the Vols’ 15-yard line. No timeouts.

The 85-yard touchdown drive to tie the game could be one of UT football legend, a program-changer, one that validates all we hear from second-year UT coach Butch Jones.

Look at it this way: the win at South Carolina put the Vols in good position for a bowl game, the first since 2010. They should make a bowl.

Remaining on the schedule are home games against Kentucky and Missouri and a road game at Vanderbilt. The Vols need to win two of three to be bowl eligible.

Missouri (7-2, 4-1 SEC) is playing for the SEC East title, so that should be a big test for the Vols. Still, it’s at Neyland Stadium.

Before that, UT must get past an improved Kentucky team (5-4, 2-4), but the Neyland edge will be too much for the Wildcats. Kentucky started 5-1 with the only notable win against Florida, 36-30 in three overtimes.

That leaves Vanderbilt (3-6, 0-5), which no longer has the James Franklin factor.

So welcome November, UT’s favorite football month. Jones is well versed on UT’s football history and its success in this month (312-124-21 all-time).

“Everything is about finishing strong,” Jones said earlier this week.

“We spoke to our football team (last) Friday that this storied football program has an 80-percent winning percentage in the month of November, and that’s the standard and that’s the expectation here.

“We have three very good opponents coming in, and that’s why we need to make Neyland Stadium electric, 102,455 (fans).

“We’re going to need everyone with their great support which they’ve shown all year long to come out and support this football team.”

It’s too late to second guess where the Vols would be if Dobbs had played sooner this season. Would they only score nine points against Florida or three against Ole Miss?

Dobbs spent the first eight games as the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart behind senior Justin Worley, who is now out for the season, and sophomore Nathan Peterman.

Worley hurt his shoulder Oct. 18 against Ole Miss and couldn’t play against Alabama, so Peterman got the start.

After two uneventful series with Peterman at quarterback, Jones put Dobbs in the game against the Tide. The switch by Jones might be UT’s biggest play of the season.

Dobbs gave the Vols a spark and hope against the Tide by rushing for 75 yards and throwing for 192. He rallied UT from a 27-0 deficit to within 27-17.

Joshua Dobbs, center, and Todd Kelly Jr. leave the field following Tennessee’s 45-42 overtime win at South Carolina. Dobbs, who had spent much of the season as the Vols’ No. 3 quarterback, led his team to two touchdowns in the final two minutes of regulation to force overtime. He ran for 166 yards and passed for 301 yards and two touchdowns during the win.

-- Ap Photo/ Richard Shiro

Alabama coach Nick Saban said his defense didn’t game plan for Dobbs. (Why not, then?) But South Carolina and its defensive coordinator, Lorenzo Ward, knew Dobbs was going to be the Vols’ quarterback last Saturday and had a week to get ready.

Result: Dobbs ran for 166 yards and three touchdowns and threw for 301 yards and two touchdowns against the Gamecocks.

South Carolina’s defensive flaws were no secret, and Dobbs and his playmakers exposed them to the max.

“We made impactful plays at critical moments, two one-minute drives,” Jones said. “One at the end of the first half, 1:16 and we drive the length of the field, and they were in man coverage, and we hit a quarterback draw (Dobbs’ 36-yard TD run), and then the drive that will live forever, (1:23) left, 85 yards to go, no time outs, and we went nine plays with no timeouts.”

Dobbs’ 9-yard touchdown pass to Jason Croom and Aaron Medley’s PAT kick tied the game. Medley’s 32-yard field goal in overtime, and two sacks by UT’s defense, won it.

Dobbs’ performance should win him the starting job for the rest of the season. Even if Worley had been healthy, UT would surely have stuck with its dual-threat quarterback.

His heroics at Saturday might have changed the direction of the program.

“We have great character in our football program, and we’re learning how to win, and we all know we’re raising a football program,” Jones says. “But it’s defining moments like this that really elevates your football program because this will be a reference point for many, many years to come.”

Notable notes

Another Butchism: Jones’ theme going into the South Carolina game was “W.I.T.” or “Whatever It Takes,” and that vibe was ringing through the Vols last Saturday morning.

UT had a scheduled walk-through at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C., and woke up to bad weather.

Jones decided to go ahead with the walk-through.

“It was pouring down rain, it was cold, and we contemplated, ‘Do we cancel and just stay at the hotel?’ ” Jones says.

“But we thought it was really important to get our kids acclimated to the elements that they may be playing in. We walked out there and the kids embraced it.

“They took off their sweat shirts. Even Jordan Williams took his shirt off and kind of set the temperament. Our theme going into this game was ‘W.I.T,” Whatever It Takes, and we had to dig deeper than we ever had before.”

Starting with the walk-through.

More Dobbs: Dobbs made his first start since Nov. 30, 2013 against Kentucky when he threw for 199 yards and two touchdowns (one interception) and ran for 52 yards and one touchdown on seven carries in a 27-14 victory.

Dobbs’ 166 rushing yards against South Carolina broke the single-game rushing record for a quarterback held by Jimmy Streater, who rushed for 106 yards in a 35-17 over Auburn on Sept. 29, 1979 at Neyland Stadium.

It’s the fourth time in UT history a quarterback has rushed for more than 100 yards.

Johnson Chasing Record: Senior linebacker A.J. Johnson had 10 tackles against South Carolina and moved into second-place on UT’s career tackles list with 420.

He surpassed Jamie Rotella’s 413 tackles from 1970-72. Johnson has no shot at the career tackles record. Andy Spiva had 547 from 1973-76.

Jersey Talk: South Carolina might want to consider shelving the black jerseys for good. The Gamecocks lost their sixth consecutive game when wearing black.

UT, meanwhile, snapped an eight-game losing streak while wearing its all-white uniforms, dubbed “Stormtroopers.” The streak went to the 2009 road finale at UK.

Dave Link is a freelance journalist living in Knoxville.

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