Tennessee coach Butch Jones confirmed on Friday what had previously been suspected: True freshman Joshua Dobbs was the only scholarship quarterback available to play in recent games against Alabama and Missouri.
True freshman Riley Ferguson, who had competed with Dobbs for playing time, was out with an undisclosed lower leg injury. Redshirt freshman Nathan Peterman was out with a thumb injury.
Both quarterbacks are now healthy and would be available to play if needed when Tennessee (4-6, 1-5 SEC) plays Vanderbilt (5-4, 2-4) on Nov. 23 (TV: ESPN2 or ESPNU, 7 p.m.) at Neyland Stadium.
UT lost at Alabama 45-10 on Oct. 26, when Dobbs made his college debut after starter Justin Worley injured his thumb. Dobbs started his first game the following week at Missouri in a 31-3 loss.
Dobbs played the entire game against Auburn last Saturday in a 55-23 loss.
Prior to the Missouri game on Nov. 2, Jones insisted that Ferguson was fully healthy. When asked about reports that Ferguson was wearing a protective boot on campus, Jones downplayed its importance: “Half the team is in a boot,” he said.
In an interview with Nashville radio station 104.5 The Zone on Friday, Jones acknowledged that Dobbs was the only quarterback available and that the team was preparing emergency plans in case he was injured.
“You talk about the physical and mental toll, when we go play Alabama and Justin Worley goes down, Joshua Dobbs is your only quarterback,” Jones said. “You go to play Missouri, a top-10 team on the road, Joshua Dobbs is your only quarterback you have available for that game. Our players understand. We were getting our Wildcat package ready and all those things we might need.”
Jones said the trial by fire for Dobbs might help the offense in the long run.
“It becomes maybe a blessing that we were able to get through with Joshua and expand the offense as well,” he said.
In the same interview, Jones forcefully defended his veteran offensive line against criticism that it has underachieved and been inconsistent this year.
“Well, I totally disagree with that comment,” Jones replied. “I think if you look at everything, if we stay on schedule, it will be the best rushing season we’ve had at Tennessee since 2004.”
The Vols are, in fact, on pace to have the program’s most rushing yards in nine years.
All that production has come with a very young supporting cast and very few “splash” plays, Jones said.
“During this bye week, I’ve gone back and watched their body of work during the course of the season and we’ve been able to run the ball efficiently,” Jones said. “But the problem is we’re not getting 40-, 50-yard chunk plays.”
Both Jones and the radio host remained cordial throughout, but Jones clearly wanted to make a point amid growing criticism of the line.
“We’re going to need (the offensive line) down the stretch,” Jones concluded. “Do they need to play better? Absolutely. Everybody needs to play better. And we need to coach better the last two games.”
Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee football. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.