Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs warms up during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Saturday. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When a team loses 45-10 on the road to their biggest rival, coaches and fans have to look for a silver lining, something to give them hope that things will get better going forward.
The silver lining in Saturday's loss at top-ranked Alabama was the fact that the Volunteers might have found their quarterback of the future, even if he might not be the quarterback of the here and now.
True freshman Josh Dobbs entered the game at the beginning of the third quarter after starter Justin Worley re-injured his thumb late in the first half.
Despite the fact that Dobbs was playing against high school players this time last year, he looked to have good command of the offense and had some zip on his passes and showed his ability to run when he needed to. His first collegiate throw was a 14-yard pass in the flat to Marquez North. After he rushed for 11 yards on the next play, Dobbs found Jonathan Johnson for a 24-yard pass to the sideline that moved the ball into Alabama territory.
Dobbs found North on a crossing pattern for 29 yards to the Crimson Tide 15 later in the third quarter and picked up a first to take the ball to the 3-yard line, and Rajion Neal scored on the next play for Tennessee's only touchdown of the day.
Dobbs' numbers were not spectacular — he was 5-of-12 for 75 yards and rushed three times for 19 yards — but there was more to his performance than appeared in the stats. His passes were crisp and he and North, another outstanding freshman, seemed to be on the same page on several big plays, which bodes well for the future.
"Under the circumstances, I thought Josh did some good things for us," UT coach Butch Jones said. "Throwing the ball, I thought for the most part he was accurate and he managed the offense well for a true freshman. I thought he had great command and presence, and Josh is very bright and very competitive so those were valuable reps moving forward.
"I thought he did some good things and as you could see, Josh adds another element in terms of making some plays with his feet. Under the circumstances, he did some very good things."
Dobbs was one of the biggest pickups in last year's recruiting class. The 6-foot-3 freshman from Alpharetta, Ga., was a four-star recruit who threw for 3,625 yards and 29 touchdowns and ran for 10 scores as a senior. He and fellow freshman Riley Ferguson have both taken snaps in practice as Worley's possible backup, but Jones said he felt going with Dobbs was the best decision.
Jones said that there has been marked improvement by Dobbs since he arrived on campus.
"He's come a long way," Jones said. "His accuracy has improved and his arm strength has continued to improve as well as his accuracy and leadership."
Jones said that he expects Worley to be back in practice this week, but the full extent of his injured thumb remains to be seen. That will be the biggest question as the torturous schedule the Vols have faced this season continues next week when they travel to Missouri for a matchup against yet another ranked team. The ninth ranked Tigers will be the sixth ranked team Tennessee has played this season, and with a game against No. 8 Auburn the following week, the Vols are certainly being baptized by fire in 2013.
When Tennessee took Georgia into overtime and then beat South Carolina on the last play of the game on Oct. 19, many national pundits told Tennessee fans that they had finally found a coach. With Dobbs' performance Saturday against the two-time defending national champion, Vols fans may have also found their future star quarterback.