Sorry, Tennessee: New Joshua Dobbs still looks like old Joshua Dobbs
Overwhelming favorites to capture the SEC East this year, Tennessee still had plenty of naysayers.
Those naysayers are feeling awfully good about themselves right about now, even with the Volunteers moving to 1-0, as they were lucky to walk away with a 20-13 win over Appalachian State in overtime.
Their reliable ground assault was held to 3.0 yards per carry — UT’s offensive line outweighed the Mountaineers’ front four by an average of 50 pounds a man, too. Their developing passing attack was downright atrocious at times. Even their scintillating special teams made a few critical mistakes.
In the end, it was a handoff from quarterback Joshua Dobbs to running back Jalen Hurd that won it.
However, this was no traditional handoff. Diving for the goal line in OT, Dobbs was blasted at the 1-yard line and fumbled. Hurd somehow made the recovery for a touchdown among a sea of Appalachian State defenders.
Coming into the night ranked No. 9 in the country and in the conversation among contenders for the College Football Playoff, coach Butch Jones fielded a team that didn’t seem capable of handling the moment — be it overconfidence or a lack thereof. Victory or not, expect a nasty drop in the polls.
By the time this jam-packed Week 1 has come and gone, nobody is going to take this squad seriously.
The Volunteers did everything wrong in the first half against the pesky Mountaineers, who were 23-point underdogs. Dropped passes, turnovers, even a targeting ejection — it was a real train wreck.
By the time Jones led his kids into the locker room at intermission, he was on the wrong side of a 13-3 score. Plainly speaking, the most anticipated season we’ve seen in Knoxville in years couldn’t have gone worse for 30 minutes. Neyland Stadium was in total shock. So was a national-TV audience.
Dobbs, the likable-but-limited senior signal caller, appeared to be no better than he was as a junior.
A terrific runner and solid short-range passer, Vols fans are hoping Dobbs takes the next step as a quarterback. Specifically, he needs to make more vertical plays and stop all the nickel-and-diming.
However, in the first quarter, Dobbs was only 6-of-12 for 47 yards. The second quarter wasn’t much of an improvement: 4-of-6 for 28 yards and an interception. The INT, by the way, was nothing short of inexcusable. He desperately heaved the football across his body deep in Mountaineers territory.
Last season’s 6.7 yards per pass attempt was considered weak. Dobbs averaged 4.2 in the first half.
With the coaching staff clearly losing faith in Dobbs’ ability to deliver strikes through the air, he threw just two passes in the third quarter. But the Vols only managed a field goal to make it 13-6.
Finally, Dobbs had a chance to let it fly in the fourth quarter and did just that, connecting with Josh Malone deep down the left sideline for a 67-yard touchdown pass. The extra point — App State had missed a PAT earlier — tied it at 13. Rocky Top was brought out of a frustrating hibernation.
Luckily for Tennessee, the ‘Eers, like a lot of Davids looking to slay Goliath, gave it away late.
With a chance to steal the game in regulation, quarterback Taylor Lamb’s half-baked attempt to stop the clock failed when he ran out of bounds — he had a timeout left, by the way — as time expired.
Once the contest moved into overtime, the odds suggested that the Volunteers would find some way to prevail. Following Hurd’s miracle TD on the Dobbs fumble, Appalachian State couldn’t answer with a score of its own. A fourth-down heave from Lamb into the end zone fell to the checkerboarded turf.
But this game was about Dobbs and his inability to show any signs of resembling a legitimate passer.
Of his 16 completions, 12 came on throws within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Any intermediate shots — 10-30 yards down the field — were few and far between at best. He was only 3-of-7 there.
As for the deep ball, meaning 30-plus yards beyond the line of scrimmage, he only attempted two. The first was picked off, and it was by far the ugliest pass he threw. It was basically a Hail Mary toward the end of the first half when he started to feel the pressure mount.
While the second resulted in the long score to Malone, to call it a perfect strike would be generous.
Here is the final line for Dobbs: 16-of-29 for 192 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Yards per attempt? A measly 6.6. Take away the 67-yard bomb to Malone, and he averaged 4.5 yards a throw.
Yes, he won the game. At the end of the day, the most important statistic for a quarterback is the win-loss column. However, this was a poor performance by Dobbs for the overwhelming majority of all four quarters plus OT. He was inaccurate. He was indecisive. He was a non-factor for long periods.
Even running the football, where he’s usually so effective, he actually lost 4 yards on 9 carries.
Does Dobbs deserve all the blame for Tennessee stumbling out of the gate? Of course not. His O-line was totally mauled. The defense got caught napping a few times. Even Cameron Sutton fumbled a punt.
That being said, this was the season of expectations for Tennessee. After five wins, seven wins and then nine wins under Jones, Year 4 is supposed to result in double-digit victories and a run to the SEC Championship Game. It’s already fair to wonder if those expectations need to be recalibrated.
Vols fans couldn’t wait for 2016 to arrive. Now it’s here. Unfortunately, it looks a lot like 2015.