KNOXVILLE – A young season of blown leads and steady erosion beneath the head coach’s feet had painted over every corner of the orange Tennessee landscape in the blues.
And, surely, there was a special reserve blend of frustration set aside for quarterback Joshua Dobbs.
Until Saturday that is, when Dobbs completely flipped the script on this woebegone scene. On this day against Georgia, Dobbs was the instrument of a frantic comeback, rather than the victim of one. Now he was the one standing victorious atop the rubble of a jaw-dropping collapse.
“Usually it’s us up 24-3. We know that football is a crazy game, anything can happen. We kept that mindset all day,” Dobbs said. Here, after all, was the guy who led his team in passing, rushing and receiving two weeks ago at Florida. And lost.
Maybe he was due. And that the junior Dobbs, a son of Alpharetta, was making his first start against the home state team, it only added to the glow of his experience.
While the Vols had been unable to hold double-digit leads three times this year, Saturday they came back from a 21-point second-quarter deficit to win 38-31.
Dobbs would account for every blessed Vols touchdown – throwing for three and rushing for two. The coup de grace was a 5-yard run through a thicket of Georgia defenders for the game’s last score. The Bulldogs seemed most hesitant to put him on the ground.
And or the second time in his Tennessee career he passed for more than 300 yards while rushing for more than 100 yards (he is the only Vol to do it).
“I just went out and did my job. My job is to score touchdowns,” he said.
At first, it was Dobbs’ job to supply the symbolism for a team that hadn’t packed it in.
He seemed to be leading the Vols to the first score of the game when he ran through a series of tackles, dragging safety Quincy Mauger to the goalline before falling less than a yard short. The display of second and third effort sent a jolt of energy through Neyland Stadium.
Just two plays later, though, the Bulldogs Davin Bellemy met Vols back Jalen Hurd just as he was taking the handoff, forcing a fumble on the 4-yard line. Scooping and running the distance was linebacker Leonard Floyd.
And who was the lone Vol chasing down Floyd the length of the field, cutting the distance between them with every step but in an ultimately hopeless pursuit? The quarterback, Dobbs.
That attitude came in handy when it came time to provide some practical guidance to victory. With the help of a Sony Michel return fumble, Dobbs threw a pair of touchdown passes in 37 seconds at the close of the first half to draw within seven of the Bulldogs. That began a 28-point run for the Vols that changed the tenor of the game.
Tennessee’s first touchdown drive of the game, as the first half burned away, was dependent upon two fourth-down conversion passes by Dobbs. The second, on fourth-and-eight, went for 39 yards and a score.
“Josh willed our offense to score points,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “We had a lot of individuals will this team to win and he made the throws when he had to, made the plays with the legs and he got us in the right plays at the line of scrimmage.”
“I love watching Josh play,” said linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin. “I could tell from the first half, they (the offense) were moving great. I knew they were going to have a great day. Every time they had the ball in their hands I was expecting seven points.”
Dobbs finished 25-of-42 for a career-high 312 yards. This was his third career game of rushing for more than 100 yards.
He has shown the potential of such numbers at sporadic points during this trying season. Finally, Saturday, he had the W to pair with them.