Pressed into a starting role as a freshman after injuries decimated Tennessee’s quarterback depth, Dobbs has thrown five interceptions without a touchdown pass. Dobbs was 11 of 19 for 53 yards with two interceptions last week in a 14-10 loss to Vanderbilt.
“I have a long ways to go,” Dobbs said. “I have a lot to work on, and I’m looking forward to working on those things.”
Dobbs’ issues have reflected the overall struggles of Tennessee’s offense during a four-game skid that knocked the Volunteers out of bowl contention. Tennessee (4-7, 1-6 SEC) has averaged 11.5 points in its last four games heading into its season finale Saturday at Kentucky (2-9, 0-7).
Starting quarterback Justin Worley injured his right thumb in a 45-10 loss to Alabama that started the losing streak. Dobbs, the Vols’ only healthy scholarship quarterback when Worley got hurt, has held the job since.
Dobbs has shown potential with his mobility, but his inexperience also has been evident. Dobbs threw two interceptions in the first half against Vanderbilt. Thirty-seven of his 53 yards passing came in the final 14 seconds of the game. Tennessee got inside Vanderbilt’s 15 twice without scoring.
“It’s always, I wouldn’t say frustrating, but just kind of annoying when you can’t get in your groove and can’t get things going,” Dobbs said. “But as a quarterback, I have to stay calm, stay focused on the goal, and just continue to execute as best as I can.”
Dobbs says he remains confident in his skills and believes he can do whatever the coaches ask of him. Coaches and teammates continually have praised his poise, intelligence and maturity. If anything, they want him to show more fire.
“He’s so cerebral at times and very calm (that) sometimes we need to see a little more emotion from him,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “That’s part of learning that leadership. It’s extremely difficult. Here’s a young man that at this time last year was in high school, didn’t go through spring football, had limited repetitions.
“Now he’s with a veteran offensive line. Sometimes it can be overwhelming for an individual, but I think he’s handled it well. But as we continue to progress, we also need a lot more from him.”
Kentucky has its own quarterback issues.
Wildcats quarterback Jalen Whitlow has neck spasms and an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, though Kentucky coach Mark Stoops remains hopeful he can play Saturday. Kentucky won’t have leading rusher Raymond Sanders, who was suspended for violating a team rule.
“(Whitlow’s) gotten an MRI,” Stoops said Monday. “We sent it to a specialist and we are checking, and everything seems fine at this point, so we’ll see how it progresses through the week.”
While Kentucky is checking on Whitlow’s status, Tennessee is keeping tabs on big-play receiver Marquez North, who injured an ankle in the first quarter against Vanderbilt. Jones described North’s status as day to day. During portions of Tuesday’s practice open to the media, North remained on the sideline.
Jones said “a big chunk of our offense was removed” after North left the Vanderbilt game. That made things tougher for Dobbs.
Dobbs’ three starts have come against No. 5 Missouri (10-1, 6-1), No. 4 Auburn (10-1, 6-1) and Vanderbilt (7-4, 4-4). He shouldn’t face quite as much of a challenge against Kentucky, which ranks last in the SEC and 111th nationally in pass efficiency defense.
“I don’t see him losing confidence,” Tennessee offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James said. “He’s a very level-headed kid. He doesn’t get too low or too high on himself. I would just tell him, like I tell him every day, just go out there and have fun, (that) you know what you’re doing.
“He’s a smart kid. Just go out there, relax, do what you’ve got to do and make some plays.”