NASHVILLE, Tenn. —Tennessee football came alive at Nissan Stadium, compliments of outgoing senior quarterback Josh Dobbs.
Dobbs put on a show before the sellout crowd of 68,496 at Nissan Stadium, leading the No. 21-ranked Vols to a 38-24 victory over Nebraska on Friday.
Junior defensive end Derek Barnett made a memory of his own, recording a fourth-quarter sack that gave him Tennessee’s school record with 33. Barnett, expected to declare for the NFL Draft, had been tied with Reggie White.
Dobbs was 23-of-38 passing for 291 yards and a touchdown for the Vols (9-4), and he rushed for 118 yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries en route to the game’s MVP honors.
It was Dobbs’ fourth game rushing for more than 100 yards this season, and his three rushing TDs represented a Music City Bowl record and lifted him to a single-season school record for QBs (12).
The 24th-ranked Cornhuskers (9-4) made things interesting in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 points in a two-minute span.
Nebraska quarterback Ryker Fyfe (17-36, 243 yards) scored on a 9-yard scramble with 10:12 left to make it 31-24 five plays after Vols freshman Tyler Byrd fumbled away the kick return after a Nebraska field goal.
Dobbs answered on the ensuing drive, finding Josh Malone for a 59-yard TD pass to extend the lead to 38-24 with 8:45 left.
Tennessee had taken a 21-7 lead into the half, exploding for three touchdowns in the second quarter after both teams went scoreless in the first.
Vols tailback John Kelly opened the scoring on a 28-yard sweep on the fourth play of the second quarter, with UT using tempo to spark its offense.
Dobbs scored the other two first-half touchdowns, sprinting in from 10 yards two plays after he converted a third-and-10 with a 15-yard scramble, and scoring again on a 2-yard blast with 9 seconds left before intermission.
Three things learned
• Dobbs has left a legacy and raised the bar in such a manner that none of the young returning quarterbacks should be expected to produce in the same fashion.
• Junior college transfer Jonathan Kongbo made himself right at home in his second full game at defensive tackle, coming up with a tackle-for-loss and showing up repeatedly in the Nebraska backfield.
• Butch Jones’ decision to allow his players to tackle and scrimmage in bowl practices paid off. Tennessee’s defense look as good, collectively, as it had since the 55-0 win over Tennessee Tech.
Tennessee’s lead had shrunk to 31-24 in the fourth quarter when Dobbs faced a third-and-3 at his own 30. Dobbs tucked the ball and picked up 11 yards and a first down, and on the next play found Malone for the 59-yard TD strike.
Tennessee showed up to play with complete effort, just as Jones promised. Some have speculated that second-tier bowls, such as the Music City, do not capture the interest or enthusiasm of teams. The Vols debunked that thought, playing inspired football at Nissan Stadium.
Tennessee knows the seniors are moving on, but which juniors will turn pro, and what assistants coached their final game?
The Vols’ defensive front seven got the job done, holding the Cornhuskers to 61 yards rushing on 28 carries.
What it means for Tennessee football
The Vols matched last year’s record at 9-4 despite a spate of injuries that led to 17 starters missing at least one game, and playing the toughest schedule in the nation according to NCAA metrics.
— Mike Griffith (@MikeGriffith32) December 31, 2016