By Frank Gale
Tennessee saw its season’s record fall to 4-4 this past weekend when they went down to long-time rival, top-ranked Alabama. The Vols also lost Justin Worley, probably for the remainder of the season, when he re-injured his throwing hand. Enter true freshman Joshua Dobbs, the third signal caller of the season, as the Vols roll into what was once to be the easier part of a difficult schedule.
This week the Vols will face another ranked football team on the road. Missouri dropped from No. 5 to No. 10 in the polls after their undefeated season was ruined by South Carolina last week in double overtime. The Vols have a score to settle with these Tigers, too, after a late fourth-quarter rally eventually led to an overtime defeat on Rocky Top last season.
The Tigers will have a red-shirt freshman at the helm of their offense. Maty Mauk, the former Parade High School All-American, will be making his third start of the season. Tennessee’s defense once again faces a mobile quarterback that so far has relied on big plays since taking over for injured James Franklin.
The Vols offense will be directed by first-time starter Joshua Dobbs. By now, we have all heard the attributes of this young man. Honor student, has what Coach Butch Jones refers to as a photographic memory and is a natural leader. Some pretty lofty credentials for this young man heading into his first start. His second-half performance against Alabama gives fans reason for optimism; however, we saw Nathan Peterman falter in his first collegiate start at Florida earlier this season.
Starting the second half of a game where your team is trailing by a huge deficit can not match the pressure of actually starting a game for the first time on the road. Despite the odds against him, don’t be surprised if the young student/athlete rises to the occasion. Coach Jones sure hopes he performs well; he is the last of the healthy quarterbacks going into this game.
A mobile quarterback like Dobbs should make the read option offense more effective and help the rest of the ground game. That could slow down a Missouri pass rush that features a very active front four led by senior defensive end Michael Sam. Last week, he was a more disruptive force than the more acclaimed Gamecock’s Jadeveon Clowney.
According to Coach Jones, they did not have to pare back the offense this week because Dobbs has a working knowledge of the entire offensive playbook. No wonder there is a positive atmosphere swirling around the team this week.
The offense will have to rally around their young quarterback tomorrow. Discipline along the offensive line and concentration from the skill positions are a must. Not putting Dobbs in bad down and distance circumstances is imperative if the Vols hope to upset the Tigers.
Last week, Vanderbilt suffered a lopsided defeat at Texas A&M. At least Vandy can’t lose this week with their off date. That should help improve Jim Butler’s weekend and even allow him to catch the Vols’ game. Only 22 more days Jim.
Coach Jones will not expect his young quarterback to win the game tomorrow night in Columbia, but rather not to lose it. Three of the Vols four losses this season included poor performances by the signal callers. All Joshua Dobbs needs to do to survive his first start is manage the offense and not self destruct.
The game will be carried on ESPN at 6 p.m. CDT. Could this be the game that propels the Vols to a special November? The Big Orange Nation sure hopes so! Go Vols!!
(Frank Gale is a Chronicle correspondent and his column appears regularly.)