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Josh Dobbs is the SEC's Best Quarterback on Third Down

Tennessee's passing game still has room to grow, but Josh Dobbs has been better than he gets credit for in picking up third downs.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The spotlight is only getting brighter on Tennessee's senior quarterback. It means conversations on what he would be at Stanfordlooking in detail at what championship quarterbacks have done here before that he is yet to do, and being proud when he goes out of his way to make a young fan's day.

Much of the chatter on Josh Dobbs, from Vol Nation and beyond, is whether his good in the passing game can be good enough for the Vols to win championships this fall. He's already the best running quarterback in school history and his decision making vastly improved last fall with just five interceptions. Tennessee's chances to win will rise if his 59.6% completion rate and 6.7 yards per attempt from last season do the same. And yes, we'd love to hit the deep ball more.

But when we praise the good Dobbs has already done, there's more there than just running wisely or being a great ambassador for the program.

When the Vols beat South Carolina last fall we praised Dobbs on third down. The Vols passed for seven third down conversions of six or more yards; all of those conversions came on scoring drives. Tennessee was 21st nationally in third down conversions last year at 45.97%; other than a frustrating 6-of-18 performance against Oklahoma the Vols converted at least 40% in every other FBS game.

When we look a little closer at the situational stats (via CFB Stats), we find Dobbs has been excellent on third down both on the ground and through the air.

Of Tennessee's 97 successful third down conversions last season, 19 came on a Dobbs run and another 48 through the air. When we zoom in on the rushing numbers, it's no surprise both Dobbs and Jalen Hurd found success in third-and-short (three yards or less):  Hurd picked up 16 first downs on 22 third-and-short carries, Dobbs got nine on 12 attempts. But Dobbs was also great running the ball on third-and-medium (four-to-six yards):  his six conversions were tied for third in the country, which included Tennessee's only touchdown against Missouri.

Through the air I'm less interested in what Dobbs did on third-and-short, or in third-and-10+. But when we look at what Dobbs did with 4-6 yards to gain and with 7-9 yards to gain on third down, we find encouraging numbers:

Season 205 344 59.6 2291 6.7 119
3rd & 4-6 22 33 66.7 225 6.8 18
3rd & 7-9 18 35 51.4 307 8.8 16

You would expect Dobbs' completion percentage to go down and his yards per attempt to go up on third-and-long, as they do. It's encouraging to see his completion percentage go up fairly significantly on third-and-medium. But his ability to just get the first down stands out the most:

  • 18 first downs converted through the air on 3rd and 4-6 was 15th nationally and best among SEC quarterbacks; no one else had more than 13.
  • 16 first downs converted through the air on 3rd and 7-9 was fifth best nationally, also best among SEC quarterbacks; no one else had more than 11.

Brandon Allen converted a slightly better percentage of all passing third downs overall (44.8% to Dobbs' 42.8%), but his numbers are boosted by picking up eight first downs in 10 attempts on third-and-short. If you combine the third-and-medium and third-and-long numbers, you get this among SEC quarterbacks on 3rd and 4-9 last year:

QB 1st Downs Attempts Conversion %
Josh Dobbs 34 68 50.0
Perry Orth 16 35 45.7
Brandon Harris 22 53 41.5
Dak Prescott 23 57 40.3
Will Grier 9 23 39.1
Brandon Allen 18 49 36.7
Kyle Allen 16 45 35.5
Chad Kelly 16 45 35.5
Patrick Towles 14 40 35.0
Johnny McCrary 15 43 34.8
Drew Lock 11 38 28.9
Jake Coker 16 57 28.0
Greyson Lambert 9 36 25.0

There are a number of these that stand out for Dobbs:

  • The final scoring drive against Florida featured a 3rd-and-8 touchdown to Von Pearson that was wiped off by a penalty, so Dobbs came back with a 17-yard gain to Ethan Wolf on 3rd-and-13.
  • After Georgia fumbled the kickoff, Dobbs and Josh Malone connected for 23 yards on 3rd-and-10.
  • Dobbs hit Alvin Kamara out of the backfield on 3rd-and-goal to give the Vols the lead against the Dawgs in the third quarter.
  • On 3rd-and-8 at the Alabama 11 Dobbs hit Josh Smith for an early touchdown against the Crimson Tide.
  • Dobbs and Jalen Hurd connected on 3rd-and-8 on the first drive of the second half against Kentucky, with Hurd doing the rest for a 37-yard touchdown.
  • In the aforementioned South Carolina game, Dobbs had three third-and-long conversions on the drive that put the Vols up 24-17:  15 yards to Josh Smith on 3rd-and-10, 23 yards to Ethan Wolf on 3rd-and-9, and an 11-yard touchdown to Alvin Kamara on 3rd-and-6.
Dobbs still has room to grow as a passer. But I'm not sure we've been giving him enough credit for what he's done, on the ground and through the air, in pressure situations on third down. His ability to convert gives additional confidence in Tennessee's passing game, especially when paired with a ground game less likely to produce third-and-longs in the first place. On the list of intangible qualities you like your quarterback to have - and on top of the off-the-field qualities Dobbs already possesses - coming through in the clutch is at or near the top of the list. We'll see how many opportunities he gets to do so this fall, but his performance on third down gives even more reason to believe in him.