I think about those 2015 and 2016 seasons a lot. If you’re a Tennessee fan, I’m not sure how you don’t.
Those two seasons — 2016 in particular — were supposed to mark the moment that Tennessee arrived back on the national college football stage. Instead, it was just more of the same. It was more disappointment, and it gave us some clues as to who Butch Jones was as a coach.
Looking back at how things played out with Jones, it becomes more and more apparent how valuable Joshua Dobbs was to the Tennessee offense during that span.
Dobbs was thrown into the fire in Tuscaloosa against Alabama, when Butch Jones decided to burn his redshirt status for mop up duty against The Tide after Justin Worley went down with an injury.
A true freshman at the time, Dobbs finished out the 2013 season as the starter. It was painful. It was ugly. But he was probably better for it. It was the same story in 2014, but the results were night and day.
Dobbs put together a respectable effort against Alabama in his first start of 2014, but he truly arrived against South Carolina. Down 14 points with less than four minutes to make something happen, Dobbs manufactured back to back miraculous drives to tied the game up.
Tennessee would later win that game off the leg of Aaron Medley, 45-42. As it turns out, that win was needed for Tennessee to appear in a bowl game. The Vols used that 45-28 victory over Iowa to carry momentum into the 2015 season, which is where Dobbs’ story really begins.
The 2015 offseason was filled with Tennessee buzz. Dobbs was set to return after showing so much promise in the season before. Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara returned to form one of the better rushing attacks in the nation, at least on paper.
That rushing attack ended up being sparked by Dobbs, though. Then a junior, Dobbs was still coming along as a passer. There were games where the Vols got virtually nothing out of him through the air, but Dobbs emerged as a big time playmaker on the ground. Even with college football’s stupid rule that counts sacks against rushing yards, Dobbs ran for 671 yards and 11 touchdowns during the 2015 season.
Unfortunately for him, Tennessee’s defense came up short in critical situations against Oklahoma, Florida and Alabama in 2015. Still, Dobbs needed to add more polish as a passer heading into 2016 if the Vols were truly going to contend.
And he certainly did that. Dobbs saw his number spike in 2016, going from 15 touchdowns to 27. His yards per attempt jumped up a staggering 1.4 yards per attempt, thanks to an added ability to attack downfield with Jauan Jennings and Josh Malone.
Still, Dobbs’ put in more consistent work on the ground. The Tennessee rushing attack lost Jalen Hurd in the middle of that 2016 season, but by the end of the season it was No. 11 carrying the load for the Vols. Dobbs went over 100 yards on the ground in three of his last four games at Tennessee, capping things off with three touchdowns against Nebraska in the Music City Bowl.
What is Butch Jones without Josh Dobbs?
I’ll be honest. I wasn’t a huge Dobbs fan during his time at Tennessee until that senior season. Dobbs was wildly inconsistent as a passer. His streaks — both good and bad — drove me wild. But he changed all of that in 2016.
Dobbs took strides as a passer and finally looked comfortable working inside of the pocket. Tennessee finally had a vertical game to offset their power rushing attack. In the end, Dobbs became the main cog in that rushing attack.
It’s fair to wonder what Butch Jones is without Josh Dobbs. He carried Tennessee at times on the ground, fighting for every inch to get what he needed. Dobbs turned into a flat-out warrior down the stretch of that 2016 season.
As we saw in 2017, that offensive scheme wasn’t the reason why Dobbs racked up all those yards on the ground and through the air. If anything, he put up those numbers despite the system.
Looking back, that 2017 season was the best thing that could have happened to Josh Dobbs’ legacy at Tennessee. Nearly instantly, Quinten Dormady showed us what Dobbs meant to this program.
How many games does Tennessee win under Butch Jones if Dobbs isn’t playing? He was able to somewhat mask a lot of offensive issues. Those issues showed up in a big way during the 2017 season, where the Vols ranked 125th of 130 teams in total offense. Just a season before, they ranked 41st overall.
Dobbs was far from the perfect player. I’ll be the first to tell you that. But his toughness shined through in a disappointing 2016 season. If not for Tennessee’s 107th ranked defense in 2016, his legacy could have been that much bigger.
Unfortunately for Josh, Tennessee just wasn’t able to put the pieces together during his four years. That will tarnish his longterm legacy, but that shouldn’t stop you from believing that Josh Dobbs was one of the better quarterbacks to ever come through Knoxville.