In front of a record-setting crowd of roughly 150,000 fans at Bristol Motor Speedway, Tennessee faced plenty of adversity in the first half of its matchup versus Virginia Tech. However, the Volunteers’ defense flipped the game script and possibly produced a season-altering play for head coach Butch Jones’ bunch.
With 14:29 left in the second quarter, Tennessee forced Hokies’ quarterback Jerod Evans into a fumble, recovering at the ball at Virginia Tech’s five-yard line. Then, Vols’ quarterback Joshua Dobbs cashed in, tossing a touchdown on the next play to receiver Jauan Jennings.
“They’re [Virginia Tech] just self-destructing tonight,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said later in the broadcast.
Sure, following the first quarter, Dobbs must’ve assumed Alabama’s defense was disguised in Virginia Tech’s “Hokie Stone” uniforms. Yet, the their turnover seemingly awoke the Vols from a massive slumber, dating back to last week’s disastrous win against Appalachian State. Sans that, Tennessee might’ve been run over on the would-be raceway.
After producing just 28 yards in the first 15 minutes of action, the Vols generated 302 yards the rest of the way. Plus, the senior signal caller dominated for 197 yards of total offense, including 106 yards and two scores on the ground, carrying his team to its first eight-game winning streak since the 1998 campaign.
Dobbs’ resurgence was a welcomed sign for the program, as the Mountaineers held him to minus-four yards rushing in Week 1. Nonetheless, the duel-threat quarterback utilized the zone read offense to perfection on Saturday, especially on the run below.
Josh Dobbs breaks off a huge run pic.twitter.com/0hcqOjlbZs
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) September 11, 2016
While first couple seconds may not seem like the most impressive part of the gallop, Dobbs recognized the Hokies’ blitzed the majority of their front-seven. Therefore, his patience allowed him to face just linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka before reaching the second-level. The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder easily disposed of him with a stiff-arm, spreeing Dobbs for a 40-yard dash.
Later in the first half, Dobbs deployed a similar strategy, tucking the ball and rushing behind his lead blockers into the endzone, capping a 24-point second quarter for the Vols.
Josh Dobbs (not Donna) touchdown run. https://t.co/F2yAR0Qzuu
— @GrantRamey (@GrantRamey) September 11, 2016
Running back Joshua Dobbs chipped in as well, wearing down the Hokies’ defense for 99 yards on 22 yards (4.5 YPC).
On the flip side of the ball, Tennessee’s defense also settled in, allowing just 202 yards over the final three quarters, forcing five Hokies’ fumbles. On top of that, defensive back Micah Abernathy even hopped into the record books, recovering three fumbles, a single-game record in program history.
Unfortunately, Darrin Kirkland Jr.’s ankle injury halted the positivity. The linebacker was carted off in the second half, but the severity of the damage has yet to be determined.
Looking ahead, the Vols battle Ohio next weekened prior to the beginning of the SEC-portion on the docket. The first four conference opponents (Florida, Georgia, Texas A&M and Alabama) should open their eyes to a hidden concern on offense, too.
Imagine the Vols’ total passing yards amounting to 91 yards against those schools. Essentially, that’s asking trouble. Tennessee won’t have an abundance of success running the ball like it did versus the Virginia Tech. Hence, the Volunteers must employ their matchup with the Bobcats as an opportunity for Dobbs to sling the rock around the field, rather than primarily focusing on finding a lane to burst through.
Still, each of the aforementioned SEC schools ranked in the top-30 in opponents’ passing yards a season ago, putting extra pressure on the experienced quarterback to hit the film room. If the Vols hope to make a push for the College Football Playoff, they must defeat the Gators, Bulldogs and Aggies at least. Feeling confident? You shouldn’t be.