COLUMBIA, Mo. – For all the talk about UT freshman quarterback Joshua Dobbs’ starting debut on Saturday, it was other parts of the team that let the Vols down during the program’s first ever trip to Missouri.
Dobbs certainly made a few freshman mistakes, but a porous defense and some costly mental errors by the offense were the bigger factors in UT’s 31-3 loss to the Tigers.
“We talked about it last week,” said Tennessee coach Butch Jones. “Football is the greatest team game but it’s also an individual sport. It comes down to winning your one-on-one matchups. Everybody do your job.
“I thought Joshua did some great things. I think he’s going to do nothing but get better and better. I was extremely encouraged by what I saw. He was very even keeled, very consistent. I thought he made some great throws, particularly against one of the top defenses in our league."
And while Dobbs had his moments, the Vols (4-5, 1-4 SEC) clearly didn’t win enough of their battles to help out the freshman signal caller. Jones was particularly upset with the effort on both lines by the Vols. Normally a strength of UT, Missouri won the battle in the trenches. The Tigers (8-1, 4-1) outrushed the Vols 339-94.
“The thing I’m most disappointed in is the line of scrimmage game,” said Jones. “It's pretty obvious that it's a line of scrimmage game. They dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball."
The Vols also gave up two sacks while failing to record any sacks of their own on defense. Not only did the defensive front fail to get to Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk, the Vols couldn’t keep him in the pocket either. The redshirt freshman, who made his third start in place of the injured James Franklin, ran for a career-high 114 yards on just 13 attempts.
“We expected him to run,” said Jones. “That’s part of his game, makes him who he is. It’s a big part of his game that he can make plays with his legs.”
“If there was nothing there, he would take the ball out and run it with,” added safety Brian Randolph, who played through a shoulder injury. “It was definitely a little bit frustrating but we can’t let it get to us.”
Mauk showed he could throw it as well. He found each of his three top targets – L’Damian Washington, Dorial Green-Beckham and Marcus Lucas – for one touchdown each in the first half. One field goal from each side gave Missouri a 24-3 edge at the half.
The Tigers added a 26-yard touchdown run from reserve running back Russell Hansbrough in the second half to stretch the final tally to 31-3. The Vols made it as far as the Missouri 13 in the second half, but never found pay dirt, marking the first time Tennessee hasn’t scored a touchdown in a game since falling 14-3 to South Carolina in 2011.
Dobbs, meanwhile, finished the contest 26 of 42 for 240 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. The freshman added 45 yards on the ground on seven carries and a fumble. And while he felt a fair amount of heat from breakdowns on the offensive line, he also didn’t get a lot of help from the other skill players.
Running back Marlin Lane and Rajion Neal combined for just 14 carries for 45 yards. Freshman receiver Josh Smith also dropped what looked to be a touchdown pass in the second quarter.
“Too many drops,” Jones said. “I thought that one drop in the end zone changed the complexion of the game and changed momentum.”
Add in nine penalties, a total that matched the Vols' season high, and Jones has plenty to work on as the Tennessee prepare to host No. 8 Auburn in Knoxville next Saturday.
“Those are things we will get corrected moving forward – it’s unacceptable,” Jones said. “It can’t happen again.”
• Tennessee had a rough night in third-down efficiency. The Vols converted just 2-of-13 third-down conversion attempts, while the Tigers converted 10-of-19.
• Six of Tennessee’s penalties were false start infractions – two by Tiny Richardson, two by Alex Bullard, one by Brendan Downs and one by Raiques Crump on special teams.
• Kicker Michael Palardy had another impressive day. He averaged 42.7 yards per punt on seven attempts and hit a 51-yard field goal, the second longest in his career.
• Receiver Pig Howard had 11 receptions for 89 yards. That was the most receptions by a Tennessee player since Kelly Washington recorded 11 against LSU in 2001. Howard’s stats are somewhat deceiving since several of his receptions came on short forward pitches that count as catches.
• Defensive backs Riyahd Jones and Tino Thomas both made their career debut against Missouri.
• Josh Dobbs’ 33-yard run was the longest run by a Tennessee quarterback since Tee Martin ran for 38 yards against Notre Dame in 1999.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga