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It's hard for Vol fans to imagine after watching Missouri dominate Tennessee en route to a 31-3 romp Saturday in Columbia but things could be worse for first-year head coach Butch Jones. Much worse.

Ask Nick Saban. His rookie year at Alabama was no picnic, either. In fact, Saban suffered a loss in November of 2007 that made the Vols' loss to Missouri seem insignificant: Saban's Crimson Tide fell 21-14 to lowly Louisiana-Monroe. Making matters worse: The WarHawks were 24 1/2-point underdogs. Making matters still worse: The game was played in Tuscaloosa, so thousands upon thousands of Bama fans shared in Saban's supreme humiliation.

By comparison, Tennessee's loss to Missouri was no big deal. The Vols were 12-point underdogs against the No. 10 team in America, playing on its home field. Compared to Saban's Year 1 loss to Louisiana-Monroe, Butch Jones' Year 1 loss to Missouri almost qualifies as a moral victory.

So, keep your chins up, Vol fans. As humbling as the loss to Missouri was, it could've been a whole lot worse. If you don't believe me, ask Nick Saban.

The big picture

Freshman quarterback Joshua Dobbs gained valuable experience in his first start that undoubtedly will serve him well in his second start. He passed for 240 yards and ran for 45 more Saturday in Columbia. Granted, he threw two interceptions but one of those occurred because he was hit as he released the ball. That happens to all QBs from time to time, even Peyton Manning.

Dobbs also coughed up a fumble after running for what could've been a crucial first down. Someone needs to teach him to slide. Quarterbacks who take direct hits from linebackers and defensive backs ultimately have more to worry about than just fumbles ... concussions, for instance.

Regardless, Dobbs learned a lot from this first start. Those lessons should help him perform significantly better in the starts to come.

Players of the game

Offense: Alton Howard

The diminutive receiver caught a career-high 11 passes for 89 yards against Missouri. He's quite a threat on that shovel pass he catches after going in motion and crossing in front of the quarterback. It's a nice little wrinkle Tennessee's coaches have added to help exploit "Pig" and his quickness.

Defense: A.J. Johnson

The Missouri game was reminiscent of most Tennessee games from 2012: If Johnson didn't make the tackle, nobody did. The Tigers gashed the Vols for 339 rushing yards but that total would've been even worse if Johnson hadn't served as a tourniquet to slow the hemorrhaging.

Next up…

Auburn, Nov. 9, noon, Neyland Stadium: The Tigers improved to 8-1 overall (4-1 in SEC play) on Saturday by trouncing Arkansas 35-17 in Fayetteville.

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