For Tennessee, no senior means more to the team than Joshua Dobbs.
“We knew we had something special four years ago when we walked into (Dobbs’) house in Alpharetta, Georgia,” Tennessee head coach Butch Jones said after the game. “A young man like that only comes around so often.”
Dobbs cemented his legacy at Tennessee (8-3, 4-3 SEC) with a five touchdown, 413 total-yard performance to lead the Vols to a 63-37 shootout victory over Missouri (3-8, 1-6 SEC) in Neyland Stadium.
Dobbs, who holds the program record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback, added on to that record with two scores on the ground and a career-high 190 rushing yards. He was 15-of-22 through the air, throwing for 223 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions in his final home game.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Tennessee, though.
Missouri nearly matched the Vols point for point through most of the game behind the two-headed rushing attack of freshman Damarea Crockett and junior Ish Witter.
After Missouri held the Vols to an opening-drive punt, the Tigers let Crockett lead the way to an opening score. Crockett, who rushed for a Missouri freshman-record 225 yards on the day, rushed six times for 41 of the Tigers’ 88 yards on the drive, including the 22-yard score that put the Tigers up 6-0 following a missed extra point.
Tennessee responded with a seven play, 98-yard scoring drive capped off by a 49-yard touchdown pass from Dobbs to sophomore Jauan Jennings. Dobbs threw the pass falling down while under pressure, forcing Jennings to come back and make the catch before shedding a defender on his way to the end zone.
“When we show up to compete, Jauan Jennings is always going to be there,” Jones said. “He wants the ball thrown to him. I love it.”
Tennessee and Missouri traded punts until the Tigers failed to convert a 4th and 17 from the Tennessee 26 yard line to open the second quarter. From then on, defensive stops were few and far between.
Dobbs had a hand in the next three Tennessee plays, the last being a 57-yard touchdown pass to junior Josh Malone for Malone’s SEC-leading ninth touchdown grab of the season. Missouri responded a few drives later by leaning on Crockett again, as the Tigers called his number on the ground six times in a row. Crockett responded with 69 rushing yards, setting up Drew Locks two-yard rushing touchdown to pull the Tigers within one with eight minutes to go before the half.
Both teams added another touchdown before halftime, and the Vols went into the locker room with a slim 21-20 lead.
“I didn’t particularly like our intensity in the first half, and that’s where I challenged our players,” Jones said.
Despite not having any defensive success to end the first half, the Vols got some defensive momentum to open up the third quarter. Sophomore defensive back Micah Abernathy stepped in front of Drew Lock’s pass at the Missorui 35 yard line for his first career interception, returning the pick to the Tigers’ nine yard line before being tackled.
Tennessee converted the turnover into points when Dobbs found Jennings for the pair’s second touchdown of the day, this one from five yards out to put the Vols up 28-20 just over a minute into the half.
But, true to game form, Missouri responded.
The Tigers orchestrated a 14 play, 82-yard touchdown drive behind Crockett and Witter yet again. The two combined for 70 of the Tigers yards on the drive, including a 29-yard run from Crockett on 3rd and 21 on Missouri’s own 20 yard line. Witter’s one-yard touchdown run pulled the Tigers within a point with 8:51 to go in the third quarter.
Dobbs’ first rushing touchdown of the game silenced the Missouri sideline, but his second broke the Tigers’ spirit. Missouri responded to Dobbs’ first rushing score with a field goal to make the score 35-30, but on third and one from Tennessee’s own 30 yard line, Dobbs faked a handoff and raced 70 yards to put the Vols up two possessions.
Missouri never got it back within one score. Tennessee used a few more key fourth quarter stops to keep the Tigers at bay while the Vols extended their lead. The two teams combined for five fourth-quarter touchdowns, four from the Vols alone.
Tennessee defensive end Jonathan Kongbo, a junior college transfer, scored the final touchdown of the game by intercepting a Missouri screen and racing 59 yards for his first interception and score in his short Vol career.
“He did a good job of retracing it and catching the ball,” Jones said. “You saw a little bit of speed and burst at the end.”
Missouri finished with 740 yards of total offense, the most Tennessee has ever allowed. The Tigers rushed for 420 yards, the third time in four SEC games that the Vols have allowed 400 or more rushing yards.
Tennessee’s win comes with a catch, though, as the Vols were officially eliminated from SEC East contention earlier in the day. Florida knocked off LSU in Baton Rouge, 16-10, with a fourth-down stop as time expired, clinching the SEC East division title. The Gators finish SEC play with two losses while Tennessee has three thus far.
“Our goal is to be 1-0 every week, and what happens happens,” Jones said when asked about the win potentially being bittersweet with the Florida win.
“Obviously we have strong expectations for this football program, but right now, I’m going to talk about the win and talk about our seniors and how far our football has come.”
Tennessee takes on Vanderbilt (4-6, 1-5 SEC) next Saturday in Nashville at 7:30 p.m ET.
Edited by David Bradford
Featured image by Ben Proffitt