If the Tennessee Volunteers are going to pull off an upset of Auburn, they've got to take some of the burden off true freshman quarterback Joshua Dobbs.
That onus falls directly on UT's coaching staff after concocting a questionable game plan during a 31-3 loss to Missouri last week.
The Vols must employ more quick-hitting, high-percentage passes to take some of the post-snap pressure off their young signal-caller. UT also needs to pound the running game more with Marlin Lane, keeping Auburn honest, and then hit the Tigers with play-action.
None of those things were prevalent last week, and the Vols struggled.
Against Mizzou, the Vols' first possession began with an empty backfield and four wide receivers. What initially appeared to be a gimmick to throw off Mizzou continued throughout the game as Dobbs had a direct hand in 49 of UT's 66 offensive plays.
The true freshman showed immense promise, completing 26 of 42 passes for 240 yards. He also ran seven times for 45 more yards. Unfortunately for the Vols, Dobbs also had three turnovers.
That's a byproduct of putting way too much responsibility on the shoulders of a kid making his first collegiate start.
From that opening snap, Tennessee played very uncharacteristically. A team that had averaged 38 rushes a game, according to an analysis of statistics on UTSports.com, ran just 24 times.
|2013 Pre-Mizzou average||vs. Mizzou|
Dobbs attempted six more passes than UT had in any other contest. The Vols threw 63.7 percent of the time against Missouri, the highest single-game total. The only other game where UT approached that number was against Florida when the Vols threw 60 percent of the time.
It was the perfect example of UT coaches having a shiny new dual-threat toy with which to play and over-burdening him.
Tennessee football coach Butch Jones told reporters leading up to the game that the offensive playbook would actually expand against Missouri. In opening the playbook, UT ventured away from some of the things that made it successful.
The Vols certainly need to be able to produce in four- and five-wide sets, but that was something UT hasn't done much at all this season with former quarterback Justin Worley at the helm.
Jones told reporters he had various reasons for going pass-heavy in personnel groupings, according to UTSports.com. In doing so, however, he alluded to the fact that it wasn't necessarily playing to Dobbs' strengths:
It was trying to put the best 11 players on the field to win the football game. I think some of it is, we don't have a lot of competition, unfortunately, at some positions. We have a standard in performance here at Tennessee and if we don't perform up to that standard we have to find alternate ways of different personnel groupings. I think the next thing is trying to play to the skill set of the quarterback.
I think there is a number of things that went into that decision, some of the different formations that you saw, and we will continue to evolve with Josh as our quarterback.
The Vols suffered plenty of mental breakdowns such as five pre-snap penalties and six total offensive penalties that didn't help matters either. It's essential those get fixed, but that's just a starting point.
Tennessee also has to play much, much better along the offensive front, or it will be a long day.
UT offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian has probably memorized last week's film by now. He told reporters there was a lot of blame to go around, but he takes responsibility for getting the offense in better position to make plays:
There are a lot of factors. It comes down to play calls, techniques, it comes down to situations. [Missouri is] a very good defense, but we need to improve in the run game.
We're always going to look ourselves in the mirror and say it starts with us and how we operate and how we execute. I've always started with myself and looked for ways I can improve the results that we were able to achieve on Saturday.
Coaches sometimes see things in defenses that make them think they can exploit a certain area. While Mizzou had the most sacks and interceptions in the SEC, it also was last in the conference in passing yards allowed entering that game. Maybe the Vols thought they could take advantage.
What happened instead was coaches mistook Dobbs' blend of talent and intelligence for field savvy.
Tennessee has a senior-laden offense and has identified a few players with the ability to get downfield at this point of the season. The Vols have to find a better way to utilize those players and take some of the burden off the shoulders of a young quarterback taking game bullets for the first time.
If not, they'll be staring at an uphill battle to get bowl eligible.