Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs (11) warms up during the second half of the Vols’ game with Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Oct. 26. (AP Photo)
KNOXVILLE — Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs has a reputation as a quick learner on the field and in the classroom.
Now the freshman is eager to show just how much of an education he received last week in his first career start. Dobbs showed flashes of potential, but committed three turnovers in a 31-3 loss to No. 9 Missouri.
Dobbs will try to help Tennessee (4-5, 1-4 Southeastern Conference) end a 19-game losing streak against top-10 opponents Saturday when the Volunteers host No. 7 Auburn (8-1, 4-1).
“Every time I step on the field, I’ve just got to make sure I’m being smart and protecting the football,” Dobbs said Tuesday night while speaking to the media for the first time in his college career. “Coach always says the football holds our dreams, goals and aspirations. We’ve just got to be smart with the football and just finish drives as a team and cut down on the little mistakes and focus in on the details.”
Tennessee coach Butch Jones hadn’t made freshmen available to the media all year before allowing Dobbs to speak with reporters after Tuesday’s practice.
“I thought it was time,” Jones said. “He’s an individual that we thought from a maturation standpoint could handle it.”
Tennessee’s coaches and players have raved about Dobbs from the moment he arrived on campus this summer. He won the Watkins Award, given annually by the National Alliance of African-American Athletes to a high school senior who combines academic and athletic excellence. Dobbs plans to major in aerospace engineering and says he eventually wants to design and build airplanes.
“(The interest) started in the seventh grade,” Dobbs said. “In Atlanta, where I’m from, the Tuskegee Airmen are big. I went to a camp where we were able to tour the Delta (Air Lines) facility down in Atlanta. Ever since then, I’ve always had a fascination with them, and it’s just grown as I’ve gotten older.”
Dobbs replaced an injured Justin Worley in the second half of a 45-10 loss to No. 1 Alabama on Oct. 26 and took over as Tennessee’s starting quarterback after Worley had surgery on his right thumb last week. Dobbs went 26-of-42 for 240 yards with a pair of interceptions against Missouri. He also rushed for a team-high 45 yards on seven carries and lost a fumble.
“I learned a lot,” Dobbs said. “Every time you step on the field is a learning opportunity.”
Teammates say the performance hasn’t lowered Dobbs’ confidence at all.
“He’s been the same guy,” senior offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James said. “He’s been pretty consistent out there at practice. He didn’t feel like he was fazed by that last game. He just wants to get better.”
James spoke last week about how Dobbs walked into a meeting room to offer a pep talk to Tennessee’s senior-laden offensive line. James was impressed to see a freshman taking that kind of initiative.
Dobbs says that kind of leadership is essential for a quarterback, whether he’s a freshman or a senior.
“I feel like it comes natural,” he said. “It’s part of the quarterback position. I’ve always done it. It’s just a habit I have. I’ve just got to continue to work at it, continue to apply my skills and get better.”
Dobbs said he plans to continue speaking up while reminding his teammates what’s at stake the rest of the season.
“(I’m) just making sure I’m still being a vocal leader around the team and encouraging the guys to stay up and reminding everybody that our goals are still intact, to make a bowl game,” Dobbs said. “We have a few more games to show what we’ve got.”