KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee got the feel-good victory it needed against an overmatched Tennessee Tech team Saturday at Neyland Stadium.
The homecoming victory snapped a three-game losing streak and generated momentum in the clubhouse, with several of the younger Vols players being afford repetitions.
Coach Butch Jones talked about a spirited locker room, players celebrating and showing appreciation for one another after the much-needed win.
Here’s five observations from the win over the Golden Eagles:
1. Josh Dobbs’ accuracy
Dobbs completed his first 11 pass attempts and was 12-of-13 passing for 183 yards with three touchdowns before getting pulled out of the game with 5:30 left in the second quarter.
Dobbs’ performance was proof positive of what he can do when he’s afforded time to pass and receivers are getting open.
It was the first game this season that Tennessee’s offensive line didn’t yield a sack.
2. John Kelly’s energy
It’s amazing what an offense can look like when the players all seem to genuinely like one another.
The offensive line celebrated with Kelly, and the sophomore tailback in return celebrated with the offensive line, lifting offensive guard Jashon Robertson off the ground after his 73-yard touchdown run.
There’s a new vibe on the offensive side of the ball with Kelly toting the rock.
3. Josh Malone’s re-emergence
Remember how Josh Malone caught a touchdown pass in each of the first four games of the season?
Seems like a long time ago, but there was Malone on Saturday night, back doing his thing getting open and catching passes without any drops.
Malone had five catches for 112 yards and two touchdowns — his first 100-yard receiving game of the season.
4. Defensive attrition
The Vols can’t seem to catch a break on defense, where Kyle Phillips, Even Berry and Paul Bain all appeared to leave the game with injuries.
Phillips and Bain are the fifth and sixth defensive tackles knocked out of the lineup by injuries, putting a severe strain on Tennessee’s depth.
The secondary has also thinned out, having starting eight different combinations in the secondary with a very real possibility of a ninth different starting group in the next game.
5. Goals resuscitated
Florida’s loss at Arkansas opens the door for Tennessee to win the SEC East Division if the Vols can finish the regular season with wins over Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt AND if the Gators lose to South Carolina or LSU in their final regular season games.
The Vols are 6-3 for the first time since 2007.
If Jones can win the SEC East Division even his harshest critics would have to admit it’s a job well done considering the uncharacteristically high amount of attrition.
Offensive lineman Austin Sanders also left the Tennessee Tech game with an injury.