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Josh Dobbs and the Vols Make The Most Of Third & Long

Time and again the Vols found themselves in third and long, and time and again the Vols converted.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The first and last takeaway from this post should be, "How about we try it with fewer third downs next time?"  But if we're insisting on third downs, Josh Dobbs is insisting on making a play.

The Vols have been sneaky good at it all year, converting 45.2% of their third downs to rank 25th in the nation and second in the SEC.  Tonight they were 9 of 18 (while holding South Carolina to 6 of 17).  And eight of Tennessee's nine conversions came on the Vols' five scoring drives.  The one that didn't was a 3rd and 1.  The other eight conversions were all 3rd and at least 4.

It's good, bad, and weird all wrapped up into one.  Weird that this happened so often, bad that we've struggled so much on first and second down, and good (read:  great) to see how Dobbs and the offense have come through on third down.  Here are those eight conversions:

  • 1Q 0-0 3rd and 4:  Alvin Kamara run 4 yards (TD)
  • 1Q 7-0 3rd and 8:  Dobbs to Josh Smith 13 yards (Pearson TD two plays later)
  • 2Q 14-0 3rd and 10:  Dobbs to Josh Smith 14 yards (FG)
  • 3Q 17-17 3rd and 10:  Dobbs to Josh Smith 15 yards
  • 3Q 17-17 3rd and 9:  Dobbs to Ethan Wolf 23 yards
  • 3Q 17-17 3rd and 6:  Dobbs to Alvin Kamara 11 yards (TD)
  • 4Q 24-24 3rd and 7:  Dobbs to Jonathon Johnson 24 yards
  • 4Q 24-24 3rd and 10:  Dobbs to Von Pearson 30 yards (FG)
That is really well done against anyone from this conference, and is a credit to Dobbs, the five different players who caught one of these passes, and the pass protection.

Butch Jones mentioned in the postgame the same thing he led the Oklahoma presser with:  getting behind the sticks too often by struggling on first down.  How do you get in fewer third and longs?  Stop messing around on first and second down.  On those eight third down conversions, the Vols gained more than two yards on the corresponding first down just twice.  Jalen Hurd had a four yard run on the game's opening drive two plays before Kamara's TD, and a five yard Hurd run was negated by a second down sack before the huge completion to Jonathon Johnson on the eventual game-winning drive.  Everything else found trouble because the Vols were in 2nd and 8 or worse, with a mixture of unsuccessful run and pass plays.

So, yes, we can make it easier on ourselves.  But credit is very much deserved for the passing game making these plays all night.  For an offense that may not seek to be explosive and sometimes shoots itself in the foot on first down, Tennessee is incredibly efficient on third and long.  You clean it up on first and second, and we start winning even bigger.  But along the way, our quarterback and passing game are gaining all kinds of experience in picking up clutch first downs on third and long.