Tennessee didn't do a lot right in Saturday's loss to Alabama, but the Vols may have stumbled across their quarterback of the future in Joshua Dobbs.
One thing is certain: The true freshman should be the quarterback of the present when UT travels to Missouri this Saturday.
After incumbent starter Justin Worley re-aggravated a thumb injury against the Tide, Dobbs entered and finished 5-of-12 passing for 75 yards and rushed three times for 19 more yards. He also led Tennessee on its only two scoring drives and would have posted better numbers if not for two drops.
Dobbs was confident, poised and didn't show any of the normal first-game jitters. He also solidified himself as a better fit than Worley to run UT's read-option offense.
Despite Dobbs' solid debut, UT coach Butch Jones hasn't officially anointed him the starter. Jones said at Monday's press conference that he was re-opening the quarterback race and all four of the Vols' scholarship quarterbacks were viable options.
Jones said Nathan Peterman "possibly" could be healthy enough to be in the mix after returning from an injury suffered against Florida. He also said Worley's thumb injury is being re-evaluated, and he's "day-to-day."
Riley Ferguson—yet another true freshman—had been considered further along in development than Dobbs in recent weeks, but he practiced last week with a sleeve on his leg, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown.
Even so, Jones called the decision to play Dobbs over Ferguson "a coach's decision" and not due to an injury.
Butch didn't elaborate on why Josh Dobbs got nod over Riley Ferguson, but said it was "coach's decision" ... i.e. not an injury.— Evan Woodbery (@TennesseeBeat) October 26, 2013
Jones praised Dobbs consistently throughout Monday's press conference, and it would be a shocker if anybody else started against the Tigers. Tennessee can't afford to bench Dobbs for various reasons moving forward.
First of all, Dobbs is very cerebral—Jones on Monday alluded to his quarterback having a "photographic memory"—and was very much in command of the offense. He showed poise in the pocket and looked mobile keeping the ball on the read-option, a wrinkle UT hasn't enjoyed with Worley.
I'm thinking #Vols' Josh Dobbs is the first aeronautical engineering major to quarterback an SEC team. Just a hunch.— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) October 27, 2013
Though he sometimes guided passes, Dobbs read through his progressions as well as Worley ever did, and his throws on timing patterns were better delivered and more accurate. Any theory that Worley simply was starting because he knew the offense better was unfounded.
When asked how much UT pared down the offense for Dobbs, Jones said, "We don't have to scale down the playbook one bit with him."
National media members tuning in to the game voiced their support of Dobbs after seeing his skills on display against the top-ranked team:
The #Vols need to go with Josh Dobbs & never look back. Build the whole offense and the future around him. They got something in that kid.— Tom Luginbill (@TomLuginbill) October 26, 2013
Dobbs also makes more sense for the Vols because of matchup advantages against Mizzou.
The Tigers lead the SEC in sacks, and they proved last weekend against South Carolina that employing a statuesque quarterback plays right in their hands. When Connor Shaw—a quarterback who can move the pocket—replaced Dylan Thompson in the second half, he gave Mizzou fits.
Nobody will mistake Dobbs for Shaw yet, but he's much more mobile than Worley. Facing the best pass-rushing defensive line they'll play all season, the Vols will have to evade pressure to have passing success, and Dobbs gives UT its best option.
Unfortunately, the Tigers also lead the league with 15 interceptions, so Dobbs will have a major test on his hands if he gets the call to start.
Finally, Tennessee was forced to burn Dobbs' redshirt against Alabama, and not playing him at this point would mean wasting a year of eligibility.
Though the Vols are fighting for a bowl berth and need to play the best option to get them there, Dobbs showed (at least in limited action) that he has the best skill set of any UT quarterback who has played.
Worley was playing his best football of the season when he injured the thumb against South Carolina, but he never took the starting job and ran with it because of inconsistency. Peterman's one half against Florida was disastrous and should forever be erased from Tennessee history books.
Dobbs' audition, on the other hand, was full of promise and created a positive buzz in the 'Bama bloodbath.
Maybe Dobbs is the signal-caller who'll be at the helm when the Vols finally climb from the doldrums of mediocrity. He was well-regarded coming out of high school, according to 247Sports, and his debut gave no one any reason to believe any of those accolades were unfounded.
The Vols have to give him that opportunity to be the man…for now, with an eye toward the future.
All quotes and information were taken from videos posted on UTSports.com unless otherwise noted.