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A Year with Josh Dobbs

On watching Tennessee's quarterback grow a year after a stunning night in South Carolina.

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

It is getting less important in the grand scheme of things, and the moment we thought it could be has been overshadowed by the moments which almost were this season.  But one year ago, deep into the night when some had given up and gone to bed, Josh Dobbs orchestrated a rally which changed a game, a season, and the narrative of the program.

We had seen Dobbs as a true freshman, but he was eaten alive by a combination of inexperience, lack of talent around him, and facing three eventual Top 7 teams in his first three appearances.  Then we had seen Dobbs against Alabama the following year, erasing that picture and replacing it with the hope of what could be.

Against South Carolina it became what was.  And now, a year later, Dobbs is at the controls of a team that has been painfully close this season to the dreams we can now realistically hope for next season.

Improvement has been the biggest positive this season, not just from last year but from September to October.  After seeing only one really good defense as a starter last fall, Dobbs has gone through several this year.

Bowling Green posed no threat defensively, as Dobbs went 15 of 22 for 205 yards (9.3 ypa) and a pair of touchdowns.  But against Oklahoma and Florida our quarterback really struggled through the air:

  • Oklahoma:  13 of 31 for 125 yards (4.0 ypa)
  • Florida:  10 of 17 for 83 yards (4.9 ypa)
Then against Arkansas the Vols went to the air far more often, with a little more efficiency but still no victory:
  • Arkansas:  20 of 36 for 232 yards (6.4 ypa)
Since then, however, Dobbs has gotten more efficient every week as the Vols have played increasingly good football:
  • Georgia:  25 of 42 for 312 yards (7.4 ypa)
  • Alabama:  13 of 22 for 171 yards (7.8 ypa)
  • Kentucky:  16 of 26 for 233 yards (9.0 ypa)
All of this on top of what Dobbs brings with his legs, still one of the greatest indicators of Tennessee's ultimate outcome (and still heavily reliant on how he's protected by the offensive line).  In losses to Missouri last year and Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Alabama this year Dobbs has 54 carries for 51 yards.  In all his other starts the last two years Dobbs has averaged 15.3 carries for 96.8 yards, none better than the 166 yards he put on South Carolina last year.  The Vols are 7-1 in those starts, the only loss at Florida.

It remains to be seen how much of this will be the key question for Tennessee in 2016 ("Vols win when they protect Dobbs and/or he runs well, lose when they don't"), but what we have seen over this past year is not only a dynamic quarterback in the ground game, but subtle improvements in the passing game.  Dobbs may not be confused for Tyler Bray this year or next, but he is already throwing it well enough to give the Vols a chance to win against major competition and could continue to improve.  And some combination of Dobbs and the play calling has already significantly curbed his interception numbers:

  • 2013:  6 INT in 121 attempts (1 every 20.1 passes)
  • 2014:  6 INT in 177 attempts (1 every 29.5 passes)
  • 2015:  3 INT in 217 attempts (1 every 72.3 passes)
Two of his three interceptions this season came on batted balls, and the third was in overtime.  We don't foresee the Vols needing any heroic fourth quarter drives on the strength of Dobbs' arm the rest of the regular season, which means Dobbs could have a chance to approach Manning's record of just four interceptions in 1995.

We asked in preseason what Dobbs' zenith could be.  We're still figuring out the answer, but you have to appreciate the progress.  Even with an opening act that was always going to be a bit difficult to follow, Dobbs could be on his way to becoming not just the quarterback who was there when the Vols took their first step of transformation, but their last.