Oct. 30, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- While Joshua Dobbs is taking classes in his major Aerospace Engineering, he is also continuing his coursework in UT Football 101. As he prepares for his first college start - on the road at No. 10 Missouri - the true freshman is ready for the task at hand according to his position coach and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian.
"He and Riley (Ferguson) both - I've said this before and I'll say it again - are as advanced for freshmen that I've ever had," said Bajakian. "Their knowledge of the playbook and their skillsets are good. From a game plan standpoint, I feel confident that [Dobbs] has a firm understanding of everything we've done in the past and everything we're planning on this week."
Dobbs' first step after being named the starter by head coach Butch Jones was out of his Physics for Engineers class - his favorite course at UT - and into the offensive lineman's meeting room.
"I did not [know he was going to attend the meeting.] But I'm not surprised either," said Bajakian. "That's the kind of guy he is and that's the presence he has."
The Alpharetta, Ga., native displayed that presence and control in one of the toughest environments last week - against the nation's top team at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
"If you know Josh at all or if you've been around him at all, that's how he carries himself all the time," said Bajakian. "He's a very confident player and person. He was able to step into that situation - even in those conditions - and exude that confidence.
"As much as anything, his presence with the entire offense has stepped up a notch. He's got a little bit more command presence knowing that he's the guy. He's exhibiting more confidence."
On the field, Bajakian has also noticed some tangible improvements in the rookie.
"His throwing mechanics have improved; his accuracy has improved, and obviously his knowledge of the offense has improved," said Bajakian. "He started at ground zero and now I feel he has a great grasp of the offense. Part of the process in becoming a champion is improving on a daily basis, and he's approached each day with that in mind."
Despite Dobbs being just the eighth true freshman to start at quarterback for the University of Tennessee, Bajakian says he won't play it safe under the lights at Faurot Field on Saturday.
"We'll use his skillset to our advantage," said Bajakian. "He does a lot of good things and I don't think you can ever play scared, no matter what position you are. No matter how healthy, we're going out to win the game. That's our goal. We're not going to keep any bullets in the gun."
DEFENDING MIZZOU'S TALENT
In just their second year, the Missouri Tigers are earning their keep in the Southeastern Conference. One of the biggest ways the Tigers have done so is through their explosive offense that contains numerous weapons not only at quarterback but also at wide receiver.
This week, Tennessee Volunteers' defensive backs coach Willie Martinez has stressed the importance of understanding and implementing the defensive calls made during game time.
"You're talking about understanding the defense that's called versus their formation, the down and distance, the situation in the game," said Martinez. "It's all about situational football and then you throw in, who are the go-to guys. Obviously, they have several guys. They do a good job of spreading it around and executing."
Martinez recognizes the talent within the Mizzou offense and their ability to execute in many ways.
"It's another group that's very talented- have a lot of receptions, a lot of touchdowns," Martinez said. "They spread you out and create issues as far as space, so we have to do a really good job of tightening our coverage up and making plays."
With that, Martinez will look to his defense to be prepared in a new road environment. In particular, he will look to true freshman, Jalen Reeves- Maybin to step up against the Tiger offense.
"Jalen has done a great job since he's been here," said Martinez. "He's dependable. He understands our defense. He picked up our defense right away, like I said before, when he was in the back end. I feel very confident because he's confident."
"We just want to stay focused and make sure we pay attention to details and execute the defense."
THE TOUGH ROAD CONTINUES
This season, the Vols have taken on some tough road opponents starting with No. 2 Oregon across the country, immediately followed by a top-20 team in Gainesville, and last weekend taking on the No. 1 team in the country on their home turf.
The tough road slate continues this weekend against No. 10 Missouri. But the Vols are well prepared.
"When you play on the road and you play Oregon and you play Alabama, those are two tough road games," said defensive coordinator John Jancek. "We have to just do what we do and focus on Tennessee."
The key to gaining an edge on the road? Getting on the board early.
"Get into a rhythm early in the ball game, get out there, get our cleats in the grass, make some plays, develop some momentum and then consistently play that way for four quarters," said Jancek. "There is no secret, we have to go out and execute, we have to go out and make plays. We can't worry about what the stadium seats or how loud it is, anything of that stuff. We just have to focus on us and execute our defensive play and our style of football."
A tough SEC road slate is nothing new to Tennessee, or any other team in the conference for that matter.
"The SEC is a great conference, great coaching, and tremendous skill with in the conference," said Jancek. "Probably the biggest thing, when you look at the SEC, the thing that jumps out at you right away is the line of scrimmage, both the offensive and defensive lines, the size combined with the speed and athleticism."
"That is probably the biggest separated in the Southeastern Conference," continued Jancek. "We know each week it is going to be a challenge, this week will be no different."
PLAYS IN SPACE
This weekend against Missouri it is all about one thing for the Vol linebackers.
Making plays in space.
The Tigers are known to spread the field. The Vols need to man their gaps.
"The game of football now is all about space," said defensive coordinator John Jancek. "You see these offenses, they are throwing bubble screens, they are throwing smoke screens and getting the ball out in space and forcing you to make plays."
"Unfortunately, we have been a victim of a couple of those this year," continued Jancek. "That is something that we have to continue to work on and address every week."
The Vols, who have improved week-in and week-out, will see where they stand in making plays in space against the tough Mizzou offense.
"It is all about making plays in space [this weekend]," said linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen. "That is why they do it. If your guys can't make plays in space, it is going to be a long game. I am saying it now, those guys block the best I have ever seen on the perimeter. They are big, they are physical, they latch on, they stay on."
"Our number one goal is to make plays in space and get off the blocks."