It is a long way to the top in the SEC, a longer trip back than the trip down, far longer to get back to where you feel you belong. The Tennessee Volunteers have gone from perennial contender under Philip Fulmer, to perennial also-ran under Lane Kiffin, Derek Dooley, and Butch Jones. But then UT certainly seems to have it right with this coach, a nice guy. After going for flash over the sure thing, the road back just got a lot shorter.
Tennessee upset South Carolina for the second year in a row, and while last season’s Gamecocks squad was ranked with much more going for it that this year’s struggling unit, this victory on the road was far more significant for the manner in which it was done—symbolically just what it means and holds for the future.
Tennessee was down 35-21 and then 42-28 in the fourth quarter, but never quit battling. A team that has taken Butch Jones’ hard-nosed mentality, the Volunteers found a way to win 45-42 in overtime and along the way, found a quarterback.
He was not lost; he was there all along. But this was a drastically different Joshua Dobbs than we saw start against Vanderbilt last season. It was a complete 180. Dobbs was reborn on Saturday night. Jones had planned to redshirt him for the future. He intended this to be a ‘get through year’ with Justin Worley and Nathan Peterman, but injuries and ineffectiveness forced Jones’ hand. A star was born, a bowl dream was saved, and a future may have been built.
Dobbs accounted for 467 yards of offense, a QB school-record 166 rushing, and 301 passing on an efficient 23-of-40. Sure, it was a bit rough around the edges, but it certainly got the job done for the Volunteers who improve to an optimistic 4-5. A bowl game now appears possible with Kentucky, Missouri, and Vanderbilt left. The Volunteers need two wins in those three, which come one after the other following an open week this week.
Meanwhile, it was the fifth straight conference defeat for Carolina and their 4-5 record is not nearly as optimistic with road games at resurgent Florida, and Clemson remaining. Coach Steve Spurrier had to fend off retirement rumors as the fan base grows restless over this most disappointing season.
The issue for Carolina all year has been their defense, and Dobbs was just the player with just the style and skill set to fully exploit that. His running prowess also benefitted Jalen Hurd, who ran for 125 yards on 21 carries and caught seven passes for another 58 including a 21-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that cut the deficit to 35-28. After Brandon Wilds streaked 70 yards down the near sideline to put Carolina back up by two scores, emotionally the Vols were unaffected. They still believed.
This was the breakthrough and the chance they had been waiting for.
UT went on a 75-yard march culminating in a Dobbs three-yard TD run, Dobbs rushing for 22 yards on the drive. After using their timeouts to get the ball back, Tennessee drove 85 yards in nine plays with Dobbs finding a wide open Jason Croom from nine yards out with 11 seconds left to tie the game at 42 and sent it to overtime. Aaron Medley hit a 32-yard kick to put Tennessee ahead in OT, and then back-to-back sacks by the defense forced a desperation 58-yard attempt for South Carolina—which fell short.