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Josh Dobbs’ Top Five Games at Tennessee

We pick the best of the best in Dobbs’ memorable Tennessee career.

NCAA Football: Music City Bowl-Tennessee vs Nebraska Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee’s progress under Butch Jones can, in so many ways, be traced to the insertion of Josh Dobbs as the full-time starter midway through his sophomore year. Before then the Vols were 8-12 under Jones in games started by Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman, and Dobbs as a true freshman. When Worley was injured for a second time in mid-October 2014, Peterman got the start against Alabama, then Dobbs took over in the second quarter and never looked back. Since then Dobbs has taken every meaningful snap and gone 22-9 as the starter, re-writing the record book for rushing yards by a Tennessee quarterback and threatening Peyton Manning’s single-season total yardage record this fall.

Of many memorable moments, here are our picks for his Top Five performances as Tennessee’s quarterback:

NCAA Football: Missouri at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

5. Tennessee 63 Missouri 37 - November 19, 2016

Missouri’s defense isn’t anything to write home about, but this is statistically the best performance of Dobbs’ career. The week prior against Kentucky he had the highest YPA of his career but threw only 17 passes, completing 11 for the same 223 yards (13.1 ypa). Against Missouri on Senior Day, with clouds of frustration hovering as LSU failed to beat Florida, Dobbs was simply unstoppable. He threw touchdown passes of 49 and 57 yards to Jauan Jennings and Josh Malone to open the scoring. And with Tennessee’s defense forcing the Vols to continue scoring, Dobbs was happy to oblige: a 30-yard touchdown run made it 35-27, then a 70-yard touchdown run made it 42-30 on the next drive. In the only five-touchdown/zero-turnover game of his career, Dobbs averaged 12.9 yards every time he touched the ball. That’ll do.

NCAA Football: Music City Bowl-Tennessee vs Nebraska Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

4. Tennessee 38 Nebraska 24 - December 30, 2016 (Music City Bowl)

The Nebraska win is somewhat difficult to place for many different reasons. The Cornhuskers were, like us, no stranger to injuries. At full strength, they might have been the second-best team Tennessee beat all year. But whatever they were last week, there were no questions about Dobbs’ performance. His combination of an 11-yard scramble on 3rd-and-3 followed immediately by the 59-yard touchdown to Josh Malone was the most important sequence of the game, another example of Dobbs’ ability to make clutch plays on third down in the fourth quarter.

NCAA FOOTBALL: NOV 01 Tennessee at South Carolina Photo by Jim Dedmon/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images

3. Tennessee 45 South Carolina 42 (OT) - November 1, 2014

In some ways we are still waiting for the end of what we hoped this night was the beginning of. But it remains one of the most surprising finishes I’ve ever seen for a Tennessee team in five of the most important minutes in the tenures of Butch Jones and Josh Dobbs. In those five minutes, down 42-28, Dobbs went 10-of-15 for 130 yards and ran it four times for 30 yards. Tennessee never even faced a fourth down on either of those two touchdown drives, turning a certain South Carolina victory into overtime, where the Vols would ultimately win it. Dobbs did all of that, in the first start of the season, after having broken the single-game record for rushing yardage by a quarterback at Tennessee. What he started in relief against Alabama the week before Dobbs cemented here, erasing the images of him struggling as a freshman with this record-setting display. This was in many ways a taste of what was to come, but it always remained one of his very best performances.

Florida v Tennessee Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

2. Tennessee 38 Florida 28 - September 24, 2016

The biggest win of the Dobbs/Butch era is also the hardest to rank in terms of Dobbs’ elite performances. He completed only 50% of his passes, but was hurt early by a number of drops. He didn’t crack the century mark on the ground. But he led the Vols to 38 consecutive points after falling behind by 21 points and 11 years against the Florida Gators. Only Arkansas would have a better day against this defense all year. And there was no defense and particularly no secondary more satisfying to torch than this one. Go back and watch the highlights and note how many times Dobbs keeps Tennessee in the game early (and, to be fair, he did throw two costly interceptions early). And then watch how many times he’s making money throws in the pocket with pressure all in his face. This was a final-step game, one we had no idea he was capable of until he did it: the pocket passer against an elite defense, and he was on target in an incredibly satisfying way.

Georgia v Tennessee Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
  1. Tennessee 38 Georgia 31 - October 10, 2015

(Dobbs loves the Nike Smokey Greys.)

You can make a legitimate argument for any of these top three or maybe even the Missouri game as Dobbs’ best performance. I’m going with this one for a few reasons. One, in the moment this win might have been even more important to get than the one over Florida this year. Two, Dobbs was more balanced in this game: this and the 2014 South Carolina game are the only 300 passing/100 rushing/5 TD games of his career. But most importantly, I think Tennessee needed Dobbs more in this game. The Florida performance was more of a total team win; the defense deserves just as much credit. Click on the highlights of this game up there, and you’ll see exactly one defensive highlight: the last play of the game. The Vols were down 21 early to both Florida in 2016 and Georgia in 2015, but against the Dawgs it felt like Tennessee absolutely had to keep scoring even after they tied the game. The Florida game might be Dobbs’ most impressive performance as a passer, but I’ll take this one for his most impressive performance as a quarterback: team on his back in a must-win game, down huge early, brings them back with his feet as much more of a weapon but also making huge throws on third down in the second half, especially on Tennessee’s final scoring drive. When I think about the Florida game I think about what the whole team did well. When I think about this Georgia game, Dobbs is the first thing that comes to mind.

Man, we’re gonna miss this guy.

How would you rank Dobbs’ best performances?