Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Joshua Dobbs threw for two touchdowns and ran for a team-high 75 yards in a relief effort against Alabama. He's ready to stay as Tennessee's starting quarterback if Justin Worley isn't ready to return from injury.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — While sophomore Joshua Dobbs might have shown to be the quarterback of the future, Tennessee coach Butch Jones is trying to figure who will start Saturday at South Carolina.
Dobbs came off the bench last Saturday to lead the Volunteers from an early 27-0 hole to an eventual 30-24 loss to Alabama. Tennessee pulled within 10 points and challenged in the second half, departing the game with a sense of progress for one of the youngest teams in the country.
Senior Justin Worley, out Saturday with a shoulder injury, was replaced initially by sophomore Nathan Peterman. But Peterman was relieved after two series by Dobbs, who had not played this season because of Worley’s efforts, and to maintain eligibility for a potential redshirt.
Volunteers coach Butch Jones hasn’t said whether Worley will return Saturday against the Gamecocks, although the severity of the injury might cause him to miss more than just the next game. Tennessee has a bye next week before playing at home against Kentucky (Nov. 15) and Missouri (Nov. 22), and at Vanderbilt (Nov. 29) to close the season.
"He is still a work in progress," Jones said of Worley, who injured his shoulder in the loss at Ole Miss a week ago Saturday. "He threw the ball a little bit (Monday), but not the velocity he is going to need yet. But he took all the mental reps, didn’t miss any reps in terms of overall, but it is just the velocity right now. We still have until the end of the week, but if we were to play the game right now, he wouldn’t be able to play."
While Worley has had a solid season playing behind an inexperienced and depleted offensive line, Dobbs provides a running component to the offense. His 75 rushing yards on 19 carries was the second-most allowed by Alabama’s vaunted defense this season.
Adding the 192 passing yards on 19 completions with two touchdowns, the 263 yards of total offense by Dobbs were the most in relief by a Volunteers quarterback since Peyton Manning had 265 yards after replacing an injured Todd Helton in 1994.
"It opens up a lot," Dobbs said of his running threat. "Our line did a good job of making holes for me, and when they do that we also have Jalen Hurd and Marlin Lane, our two dynamic backs, and we have good (receiving) weapons on the outside. So we are just able to use everyone."
Dobbs also made his college debut and played well in relief last season at Alabama, then a week later at Missouri became just the eighth true freshman to start a game for Tennessee. In five games with four starts, he completed 72 of 121 passes (59.5 percent) for 695 yards with two touchdowns and five interceptions, plus added another 189 rushing yards with a score.
"Dobbs did a great job giving the whole offense a different look (against Alabama)," said Hurd, whose 473 rushing yards leads the Vols, and ranks third among Southeastern Conference freshmen. He had 59 yards on 16 carries against Alabama.
"Dobbs did a great job of running," Hurd added, "and you know, that opened things up a little for me, and the offensive line did a great job blocking, as well, along with the wide receivers."
Against Alabama, Dobbs completed passes to eight different receivers, including a team-high six to Hurd. But he was also connecting with the talented corps of wide receivers led by sophomore Marquez North and junior Pig Howard with four catches each and three by junior Von Pearson, including a 9-yard touchdown.
"We have pretty good chemistry," Dobbs said of the wide receivers. "Both of us, Marquez and (true freshman Josh) Malone, they do a good job of staying after (practice) with me throwing, just getting extra work. So, I mean that builds chemistry when you practice, have good chemistry, it builds a lot of faith on the field."
North leads the team with 30 catches for 320 yards and four touchdowns and should have that rapport with Dobbs, considering they are also roommates.
"He’s a prideful guy," North said of Dobbs, an outstanding student majoring in aerospace engineering who added 27 pounds from last year. "He’s going to get better. A lot of positives. He also made a lot of mistakes, so he’s going to always get better with his craft.
"He’s my roommate, so I know everything about him. He’s gotten better with his leadership. He’s gotten bigger, his arm-strength and just strength all-around."
Known more as a gamer than practice player, Dobbs is being urged by Jones, and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian, to have more consistency during practice and to have it translate into game-day performances.
"I asked every player what their goal was for practice (Monday)," Jones said. "His (Dobbs) was to be able to execute the routine plays. So he is cognizant of that. He is working on it. That will be proven over a course of time.
"Again, consistency isn’t just one practice, it is putting a number of them together. But he knows it, and he is working hard on it, and he is a very determined young man, and I know he will work exceptionally hard at that and improve on that."
Tennessee needs to win at least three of its last four games to get to six wins and gain bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010. Saturday’s order at South Carolina is a tall one, considering the Gamecocks seek revenge from a loss last year at Tennessee, need wins for bowl eligibility and are coming off a near upset win at Auburn.
Jones hopes confidence gained in the near comeback against Alabama pays forward against South Carolina.
"You do need success," Jones said. "And we always talk about playing with confidence but quite simply, how do you gain confidence? By having success. So they did experience some success. They have worked exceptionally hard, and we are going to be challenged again at South Carolina."