KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Tennessee finally may have solved its long-term quarterback dilemma.
Perhaps it's only fitting that it took an aerospace engineering major to answer the toughest question facing the Volunteers (4-5, 1-4 SEC).
Sophomore Joshua Dobbs — nicknamed "Astro" by teammates due to his academic pursuits — made his first start of the season Saturday and rallied Tennessee to a 45-42 overtime victory at South Carolina.
"When you take a rigorous major, you know what it takes to study, the time it takes to study something fully and fully understand something," Dobbs said. "The study habits I use in school, I use the same (way) in football."
Dobbs rushed for 166 yards against South Carolina, the highest single-game total ever by a Tennessee quarterback. He became the first Vol to throw for at least 300 yards and run for at least 100 yards in the same game.
He received a standing ovation from some of his fellow students this week as he walked into his circuits class, part of a difficult schedule rivaling the football team's weekly SEC grind. Dobbs says he takes thermodynamics, circuits and a physics lab on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He has a matrix class, a computer course and a management class for a business minor on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
"It's definitely a fun schedule," Dobbs said.
Dobbs' most challenging assignment may have been fixing Tennessee's quarterback issues.
The heralded 32-man recruiting class that Tennessee signed in February included no quarterbacks. After Riley Ferguson left the team this summer, Dobbs and sophomore Nathan Peterman were Tennessee's only remaining non-senior quarterbacks on scholarship. One of the hottest debates around town had been how the Vols would handle their quarterback situation after senior starter Justin Worley's departure.
That became a more immediate concern last month when Worley tore the labrum in his right shoulder, an injury requiring season-ending surgery. After Peterman played the first two series in a 34-20 loss to Alabama, Dobbs took over and hasn't looked back.
Over the last two weeks, Dobbs has shown how far he's come since last season, when he started four games in place of an injured Worley and threw six interceptions with only two touchdown passes.
Dobbs said he has gained about 20 pounds, which has boosted his arm strength and durability while making him tougher to tackle. He also understands the offense better.
"He's been much more decisive in his decision-making process, and his vision has also improved," offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said. "He's able to come off the field and give me very detailed accounts of what he saw, which is usually very accurate."
Dobbs' mobility has assisted a young offensive line. After allowing 30 sacks in its first seven games, Tennessee has yielded just two sacks over its last two games.
"He's real elusive, like a wet noodle," defensive end/linebacker Curt Maggitt said.
Dobbs rushed for 75 yards and threw for 192 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama. He followed that up by engineering one of the greatest comebacks in Tennessee history, raising the Vols' confidence as they prepare for a Nov. 15 game with Kentucky.
South Carolina led Tennessee 42-28 before Dobbs delivered a touchdown run and a game-tying touchdown pass in the final 1:50 of regulation. Never before had Tennessee won a game in which it trailed by at least 14 points with less than five minutes left.
"It is a building block," coach Butch Jones said. "We always talk about a quarterback being able to lead the team from behind in a one-minute drill on the road. He did that."
Dobbs' emergence doesn't surprise Jason Dukes, who coached him at Alpharetta (Georgia) High School. Dukes says Dobbs threw a game-winning touchdown pass with less than 15 seconds remaining in his Alpharetta debut.
Dukes expects Dobbs to produce many more big moments.
"He doesn't allow people to tell him that he can't do something," Dukes said. "There are a lot of people who'd tell you that a starting quarterback in the SEC has too many athletic demands on him to be an aerospace engineering major. Well, if anybody can (do it), that kid can."
All content copyright ©2014 Daily Journal, a division of Home News Enterprises unless otherwise noted.