Tennessee entered Saturday’s game against Kentucky with SEC East title hopes on the line yet again.
Unfortunately for the Vols, SEC East title hopes no longer exist, as No. 21 Florida upset No. 16 LSU 16-10 in Baton Rouge on Saturday afternoon. Although Tennessee’s title hopes had been slashed, the Vols still had a game to play against SEC foe Missouri. Tennessee put on an offensive clinic, beating Missouri 63-37.
Here are a few takeaways from Saturday’s game against Missouri.
Joshua Dobbs shines yet again
Yet again, Tennessee senior quarterback Josh Dobbs led the Vols to victory behind an impressive performance. In the final home game of Dobbs’ career, the Tennessee captain went out with a bang. He entered Saturday’s game against Missouri as the SEC leader in total touchdowns accounted for (28) and was tied for first in passing touchdowns (21). Dobbs kept those numbers moving upwards against the Tigers.
Through the air, Dobbs was 15-of-22 for 223 yards and three passing touchdowns. He added 190 rushing yards — a new career high — and two touchdowns on just 10 carries. With his 413 total yards of offense against Missouri, Dobbs surpassed his previous career high for total yards in a season (3,204). He now has 3,220 total yards of offense on the season, joining Peyton Manning as the only two players in school history to have at least 2,950 yards of offense in separate seasons.
At the conclusion of senior day, Dobbs holds a 22-11 record as Tennessee’s starting quarterback. Dobbs played a big role in bringing Tennessee “back” over the course of his four-year career, and it’s only fitting that he went out with a big game on Senior Day. Many doubted his ability to be a successful quarterback at the collegiate level, but Dobbs has proved the doubters wrong time and time again. It’s hard to appreciate what he’s done for Tennessee during his career right now, but several years from now, fans will look back and marvel at just how special he was for the Vols.
Tennessee’s defense is bad — really bad
Football fans who like offense walked away from Saturday’s game pleased. On the flip side, fans in favor of a low scoring, defensive battle may never want to watch football again. A week after giving up 635 yards of offense to Kentucky, the Volunteer defense allowed Missouri to rack up 740 yards of offense on Saturday afternoon, the most a Tennessee defense has ever allowed.
Simply put, Tennessee’s defense is terrible right now. Yes, it’s been plagued with injuries this season, but that’s no excuse for giving up more than 600 yards of offense in consecutive games. Even Tennessee safety Micah Abernathy said that the Vols have to be better despite injuries after the game. Against Tennessee, Missouri set new single-game team records for offensive plays (110) and first downs (41). The 740 yards of offense put up by the Tiger offense is the second most in school history.
Tennessee’s offense is as balanced as it has been this year
The Vol offense put up 609 yards of offense against the Tigers, rushing for 386 yards and passing for 223 more. Tennessee did anything and everything it wanted to against a weak Missouri defense.
The Vols’ 63 points were a season high and the most points scored in a game since Tennessee beat Western Kentucky, 63-7, in 2009. Several players contributed to the Vols’ offensive success. Josh Dobbs led the way with 413 total yards of offense while distributing the football to seven different Tennessee receivers. Junior Josh Malone led the way with 83 receiving yards and a touchdown, while sophomore Jauan Jennings hauled in two touchdowns and 67 receiving yards. On the ground, sophomore John Kelly rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Alvin Kamara added two rushing touchdowns and 55 rushing yards.
While the Vols’ defense struggles, Dobbs and the rest of the Tennessee offense will have to continue to produce at a high rate in order for the team as a whole to have success.
Not winning the SEC East requires offseason changes
Make no mistake about it, the Vols needed changes regardless of the SEC East division outcome. This season’s expectation for the Vols was to win the division. Tennessee didn’t do that, but things wouldn’t be all sunshine and roses in Knoxville even if the Vols did.
Saturday’s game outlined many issues the Vols have dealt with all season, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Aside from the play of junior defensive end Derek Barnett, there haven’t been many defensive positives of note. The secondary and rush defense have been dreadful, while injuries have exposed the lack of defensive depth. The offense has improved over the past three games, but that doesn’t erase the early season frustration of slow starts and, at times, inept play calling. The Vols have been decimated with injuries, but did the Vols put themselves in that situation when they decided to hire the understudy of the strength coach who parted ways with the Vols before the season? Regardless, changes are needed in Tennessee’s strength and conditioning program.
Yes, the preseason hype surrounding Tennessee was warranted. However, the Vols didn’t live up to the hype. At Tennessee, success isn’t measured by how many consecutive bowl games the Vols go to — it’s measured by winning the SEC East and competing for an SEC championship in Atlanta at the end of the season. If Butch Jones can’t win the division while the SEC East is as bad as it’s ever been, will he ever be able to? The answer is yet to be seen, but Jones is going to need to make some changes in order to take his program to the next level.
Edited by Nathan Odom
Featured image by Ben Proffitt