Can we start over?
Tennessee 45 South Carolina 42 (OT)
Football teams, football programs… they don’t transform overnight. But sometimes it can seem that way.
South Carolina looked like they had the Vols done and dusted after Brandon Wilds ran right through Tennessee’s defensive line untouched on the way to a 70 yard TD run with just less than 5 minutes remaining on the game clock. It was a 42-28 Gamecock lead, and it looked simply like more of the same for a Volunteer football program that was wondering if there were even lower lows to be reached before ultimate recovery from years of decline and atrophy.
You couldn’t blame a soul for giving up at that moment.
But the players didn’t. And their coaches certainly didn’t.
What happened in those final five minutes was certainly a reflection of the Butch Jones era and a turnaround from the miserable fourth quarters the Vols suffered under three years of Derek Dooley.
What struck me the most was how methodical it was… no miracle plays, no onside kicks recovered (we tried), no turnovers (one was missed by the officials), no lopsided field position (Vols began deep in their own territory). Just two offensive drives of brilliant execution and one big defensive 3-and-out stop.
Both of Tennessee’s final possessions ended up with TDs. One drive started on the Vol 20 and took only 3:02. The second, game-tying drive took only 1:12 on 9 plays that started on the Tennessee 15 yard line!
And there were only two 3rd down situations for the Vols in both drives combined.
Combining both drives, Pig Howard caught 4 passes, Jalen Hurd caught 3, and Jason Croom corralled the game-tying TD pass with only 11 ticks left on the clock.
But it was sophomore QB Joshua Dobbs that stole the hearts of Vol fans everywhere looking cool and collected. For the two last possessions in regulation time, Dobbs threw for 130 yards, completing 10 of 15 passes. He looked more like a fifth year senior that had been doing this for years.
For the evening, Dobbs ran for 166 yards and was 23-of-40 passing for 301 yards. He set the school mark for single-game rushing by a quarterback, breaking the record of 106 yards by the late Jimmy Streater in 1979. True freshman Jalen Hurd ran for 125 yards, resulting in two Vols runners each having over 100 yards for the first time in five years.
The Vols finished with 645 yards of offense, a total unthinkable just a couple of weeks ago.
But that was before Joshua Dobbs became Tennessee’s number one quarterback and before this 2014 squad suddenly became Joshua Dobbs’ team.
Once a third-string quarterback to finish out the 2014 season as a redshirt, Dobbs’ performance Saturday night on a cold night in Columbia was simply transformative. It put a bounce in everyone’s step, a heaping load of confidence that Tennessee can go to a bowl game for the first time since 2010.
And it prompted the most obvious of questions: Where has Joshua Dobbs been all this time?
It was clearly a calculated strategy of Butch Jones to somehow get through the 2014 season while preserving an extra year of eligibility for Dobbs via the redshirt strategy. But plans have a way of disintegrating into thin air due to circumstances — an injury to the number one and the total ineptitude of the number two.
It wasn’t some brilliant decision that caused this to happen. Circumstances forced the hand of the coaching staff. Luck notwithstanding, the Vols’ near miracle on Saturday night left many wondering how different the outcomes against Florida and against Georgia might have been had Mr. Dobbs been the man in charge.
It really doesn’t serve any constructive purpose to dwell on that possibility. Instead, Tennessee is not yet bowl eligible. The Vols, after this coming and well needed bye week, have to win two of their last three contests. Luckily, two of the three are at home with the two games in Knoxville against the best of the three opponents. So nothing is settled yet — there is a lot of work yet to be done to crown the 2014 season as a success (yes, a 6-win season would be a success in the eyes of this long-time observer).
But what now seems brightly possible seemed totally impossible with a little less than 5 minutes remaining in Saturday night’s game. That was until Josh Dobbs and company took over and gave VolNation one of the most memorable finishes in many, many years.
UPDATE (11/3/2014): Josh Dobbs was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week.