This year's Rocky Top Tennessee magazine includes a look back at each of Bob Shoop's seasons as defensive coordinator at Vanderbilt and Penn State. Last week we looked at one of the standout individual games in Shoop's tenure, the 2014 showdown between Penn State and eventual national champion Ohio State. The near miss against the Buckeyes showed Shoop's defenses could play at a championship level against championship competition. But the performance Tennessee fans will remember most came a year earlier, and made many of us (including me) doubt Josh Dobbs would ever be the answer at quarterback.
Tennessee was 4-6 heading into the November 23 Vanderbilt game in Butch Jones' first season, needing to beat the Commodores and then win at Kentucky to earn bowl eligibility. In October the Vols lost in overtime to Georgia then beat eventual #4 South Carolina, building confidence in the new coach. But the schedule turned incredibly cruel from there, as the Gamecocks would be the first of four consecutive eventual top ten foes Team 118 would face. The Vols lost to Alabama, Missouri, and Auburn by a combined 131-36, with quarterback Justin Worley suffering a season-ending injury against the Crimson Tide.
True freshman Josh Dobbs wasn't bad considering who he was facing to begin his college career:
- at Alabama (second half): 5 of 12, 75 yards (6.3 YPA)
- at Missouri: 26 of 42, 240 yards (5.7 YPA), 2 INT
- vs Auburn: 16 of 25, 128 yards (5.1 YPA), 1 INT
The Vols in those three games averaged between 5.06 and 5.75 yards per play; Tennessee averaged 5.27 ypp on the year.
2013 was year three for Shoop and James Franklin in Nashville, and the Commodores were in the midst of another winning season. Vandy would finish the season ranked 25th in yards per play allowed (5.07), and had found significant success in wins over Georgia (3.51) and Florida (4.30). What they were able to do to Tennessee's passing game was even more impressive.
You probably remember the narrative: up 10-7 early in the fourth quarter and after a 13-yard Dobbs TD run was called back for a penalty, Butch Jones elected to fake a 39-yard field goal attempt, which was intercepted. Vanderbilt would later drive 92 yards in 12 plays, including an overturned 4th-and-1 sneak for what was eventually ruled a first down, scoring a touchdown with 16 seconds left to take a 14-10 lead for the win.
Much of the conversation in the immediate aftermath was on how John Jancek's defense could allow such a drive at the end of the game. But look at what Tennessee's offense was able to do against Shoop's defense for the entire game:
- 3 plays, 4 yards, INT
- 3 plays, -5 yards, punt
- 3 plays, -4 yards, missed FG
- 7 plays, 54 yards, TD
- 2 plays, 2 yards, INT
- 6 plays, 36 yards, punt
- kneel, end of half
- 12 plays, 55 yards, field goal
- 8 plays, 39 yards, punt
- 10 plays, 26 yards, INT (fake field goal)
- 3 plays, -11 yards, punt
- 5 plays, 27 yards, punt
- 3 plays, 37 yards, end of game
Dobbs was 2 of 3 for 37 yards in the final 16 seconds against Vanderbilt's prevent defense. Before that, he was 9 of 16 for 16 yards and two interceptions. Even I can handle that math: that's one yard per attempt.
The Dores would finish 11th nationally in yards per attempt allowed at an even 6.0. But they were on another level against the Vols, who lost Marquez North to an injury and were completely helpless after that. Rajion Neal caught four passes for a total of -1 yards. That's hard to do.
In the moment this was a tough loss to a rival, sending the Vols home for the holidays for the third year in a row. But with Shoop changing sidelines this is a nice picture of how his defenses could make teams thoroughly one-dimensional. And it is especially exciting when you consider the absence of quality quarterbacks on Tennessee's schedule this fall.