KNOXVILLE – The future of Tennessee football was on display during Saturday’s Orange and White Game.
And an important piece from last year – quarterback Joshua Dobbs – also resurfaced as the offense defeated the defense 129-100, using modified scoring, in front of an announced crowd of 68,548, the second-largest ever for a Tennessee spring game.
Newcomer wide receiver Josh Malone and running back Jalen Hurd, UT’s two five-star recruits in the 2014 class, both had big days.
Malone piled up 181 yards and three touchdowns on six receptions, including a 79-yard catch and run after he got behind the defense and caught a perfectly-thrown ball from Dobbs. Hurd added 66 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries to lead all rushers.
Those are big numbers from players who technically should still be in high school at this point.
“Speaking for myself, I enrolled early and my first spring was a struggle,” said quarterback Justin Worley, who got the first reps with the starting offense on Saturday. “It’s hard to get adjusted to what the coaches are asking of you and the rigorous schedule that you’re put through. So having those two guys show out like they’ve done on top of [other newcomers] – it’s impressive.”
Dobbs, who finished last season as the starter at quarterback, but slipped behind Justin Worley and Riley Ferguson this spring, had one of the best performances of the afternoon. He finished the afternoon with 199 yards on 6 of 9 passing and added a 59-yard touchdown run for a total of four scores on the afternoon.
“I feel like I had a productive day, but I feel like as a unit, all the quarterbacks had a productive day,” Dobbs said. “We did an excellent job of executing plays, focusing on fundamentals and executing plays that Coach [Bajakian] was calling, moving the ball, having good, productive drives. It was another step forward for us as a whole unit.”
And though all four QBs did have their moments, some clearly stood out more than others. Dobbs was the best performer statistically, but Worley had a solid day as well, completing 11 of 13 passes for 151 yards, one touchdown and adding a 49-yard run where he was caught just a few feet from the end zone.
Nathan Peterman completed 8 of 11 passes for 81 yards and a score. Riley Ferguson, however, struggled on several drives, finishing with 83 yards on 7 of 12 passing, a touchdown and two turnovers – an interception and a lost fumble – in addition to taking several sacks.
As he has all spring, coach Butch Jones continued to say that the quarterback race is ongoing with no timetable for a decision.
“We have to take tremendous strides,” Jones said. “We turned the football over from the quarterback position today and you can’t do that and play winning football. So I’m very encouraged by where that position is … but we still have a long way to go.”
As is always the case in an intrasquad scrimmage, success for the offense means concern for the coach on defense.
There were plenty of mistakes on that side of the ball. Dobbs’ long touchdown run came on a broken play where he broke several tackles and cut back, making cornerback Riyahd Jones miss. On a 1st-and-goal situation from the 1, Marlin Lane was bottled up in the backfield, but broke free to the other end and scored.
A defense that proudly left the field after winning last week’s scrimmage clearly came up on the short end Saturday.
“Unacceptable defensively,” Jones said. “We’re very thin there. We’ll welcome 18 new additions in June and I believe 16 of them are on the defensive side of the ball.
“We need to get them ready to play. We need to learn from our mistakes and correct them going into fall camp. The biggest thing I was most disappointed with that we need to take huge strides in is our tackling.”
• Left tackle Jacob Gilliam left the game in the first half with an ankle injury, but returned in the second half. Defensive tackle Owen Williams missed a few plays with a knee injury, but quickly returned. Jones said the team leaves spring in good health overall with few issues that will linger into the summer.
• Didn’t dress out: WR Ryan Jenkins, TE A.J. Branisel, TE Brendan Downs, DB Brian Randolph, WR Drae Bowles, WR Jacob Carter, DT Trevarris Saulsberry, DE Malik Brown
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielNooga