KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee will hang its championship hopes on senior Josh Dobbs for the foreseeable future.
Vols coach Butch Jones cleared the air of any speculation that Dobbs might be injured.
Jones also said that Dobbs, a senior captain, is the only quarterback he plans to play against Virginia Tech on Saturday.
“There is no quarterback controversy or number of quarterbacks,” Jones said Wednesday at the Ray and Lucy Hand Digital Studio. “For us, it’s Josh Dobbs.”
Dobbs’ performance in the 20-13 win over Appalachian State last Thursday night was so inconsistent and ineffective that many suspected the senior quarterback was injured.
Dobbs fumbled the ball into the end zone on Tennessee’s final offensive play but was bailed out when tailback Jalen Hurd recovered for the offense’s second touchdown of the night.
Jones said Dobbs is “100 percent healthy,” and that entering the “Battle of Bristol” game at 8 p.m. against the Hokies (1-0) the No. 17-ranked Vols (1-0) don’t plan on playing any other quarterbacks.
Dobbs ranks 84th in the nation in passing efficiency after facing a Sun Belt Conference secondary that featured two new starters, including a true freshman cornerback. His Total QB Rating of 34.0 ranks 103rd in the country.
UT offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said Dobbs apologized for the interception he threw at the end of the first half of last week’s game, and that his senior QB knows he’ll have to play better against the Hokies.
“There’s no more pressure on Josh Dobbs this week than there is any week,” DeBord said. “He doesn’t worry me. I know he’ll get that corrected, I think it was the first game of the season and him wanting to make plays. You can’t fault a guy for wanting to make plays, it’s just that he has to make better decisions when he’s doing that.”
DeBord said there were two first-down plays where Tennessee called for the pass, and there were players open “and we just struggled with the protection part.”
That’s where Dobbs, one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks, is supposed to quickly find the open receiver or make a play with his legs.
Appalachian State, however, kept Dobbs contained and limited him to negative rushing yardage for the first time in his career.
DeBord said Tennessee “will have a package for (Dobbs) every week” to run the football, but obviously would not tip his hand as to when and how much.
Sophomore Quinten Dormady is Dobbs’ backup, a 6-foot-4, 216-pounder from Boerne, Texas, with a rifle for an arm. Dormady, however, does not possess the mobility Dobbs showed last season.
True freshman Jarrett Guarantano does have great mobility and a strong arm, but he’s still learning the offense.
Jones said Wednesday that he has been impressed with both, along with Sheriron Jones, a consensus top 10-ranked dual threat quarterback signed int he 2015 class.
“They are always constantly competing, (and) I think all the quarterbacks have really done good job,” Jones said. “I really like the progression that they are all making. I think Quinten continues to get better and better and better.
“Jarrett, every day, walks off the field a better football player. Sheriron is doing a good job that way, so I’ve been really pleased with the progression of that group.”
Former Florida quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow identified Dobbs as the Vols’ key to the season.
Tebow said Dobbs needs to play better in the fourth quarter of games for Tennessee to achieve its goals.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee for SEC Country and lives in Knoxville.