The chorus is especially fitting:
“And I think it's gonna be a long, long time
Till touch down brings me round again to find
I'm not the man they think I am at home
Oh, no, no, no. I'm a rocket man …”
Dobbs waited a “long, long time” to become Tennessee’s starting quarterback, riding the bench through seven games. Assuming an offense that hadn’t generated a “touch down” in its two previous SEC games, he produced two against Alabama as a backup in Game 8 and six versus South Carolina as a starter in Game 9. He’s certainly not the man people back home (Alpharetta, Georgia) think he is, having evolved from a pocket passer in high school to a dual-threat QB in college. Finally, as an aeronautical engineering major, he truly will be a “rocket man” someday.
In the meantime, Dobbs already has been launched. He set a single-game school record for rushing yards by a quarterback Nov. 1 against South Carolina, also becoming the first player in program history to run for better than 100 yards and pass for better than 300 in the same game. Thanks to 166 rushing yards, 301 passing yards and five TDs, he was tabbed SEC Offensive Player of the Week by the league office and National Player of the Week by Athlon Sports. He also won the Manning Star of the Week national award.
That’s not too shabby for a guy’s first start of the season.
In addition to getting the SEC and Athlon honors, Dobbs got a standing ovation from fellow students when he showed up for circuits class the Monday following his breakout game versus South Carolina.
“I just walked into class and I was surprised,” he recalled, permitting himself a soft smile. “It was good to see the support from my classmates.”
Dobbs has a strong arm but is inconsistent as a passer, which is why he was headed for a redshirt year until first-teamer Justin Worley suffered a season-ending labrum tear in Game 7 at Ole Miss. Although his skills as a runner have more than offset his limitations as a passer, Dobbs says he did very little running during his days at Alpharetta High School.
“I didn’t do much,” he told InsideTennessee. “My junior year I didn’t run at all. My senior year I ran a little bit but I was definitely a pro-style quarterback, a pocket passer. That’s what I was recruited as.”
Still, he quickly proved to be a dual-threat QB at Tennessee. Thrust into the lineup by a Worley thumb injury eight games into the 2013 season, Dobbs broke a 33-yard run in his starting debut versus Missouri. Three games later he registered the longest scoring run by a Vol quarterback since 1983, rambling 40 yards in the finale at Kentucky.
“I’ve always been athletic growing up,” he said. “I played all of the sports – baseball, football, basketball, you name it. Coach Jake (offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian) just did a great job utilizing some of my athleticism, getting a lot of one-on-one matchups in space, and we’re able to take advantage of it.”
Despite starting four games as a freshman in 2013, Dobbs found himself running third-team and practicing with the scout squad in 2014. He could’ve let the demotion affect his outlook. He didn’t.
“My mindset was just to get better,” he said. “I still treated those as serious reps, as game reps.”
Even practicing with the scout squad, he made some runs that dazzled Tennessee’s first-team defenders.
“I’ve gone against Dobbs a couple of times,” junior defensive end Curt Maggitt recalls. “I had a chance to hit him but he got out of there. He really looks like a wet noodle … hard to get a-hold of. I remember when he was on the scout squad he made some plays and everybody (on the No. 1 defense) was like, ‘That ain’t supposed to happen over here.’”
Dobbs chuckled when told of the "wet noodle" comment, adding: “I guess I’m hard to get on the ground. I guess that showed a little bit in the game. Elusiveness … that just comes with a lot of the offseason drills we do – agility drills, quickness drills, side-to-side drills.”
Though blessed with good size (6-feet-3, 216 pounds) and deceptive speed, Dobbs’ greatest asset is elusiveness. His moves are subtle, yet he makes a lot of defenders miss.
“He’s smooth,” Maggitt said. “Really smooth.”
Asked how he would describe his running style, Dobbs replied: “I keep my eyes out, looking for different lanes, different cutbacks. My goal is to score a touchdown or get out of bounds or just avoid being hit. I feel like I do a great job of doing that.”
After 19 carries against Alabama and 24 against South Carolina, Dobbs needed last weekend's open date to heal some aches and pains.
“Soreness comes with the game,” he said. “It’s a good soreness, though, a playing soreness.”
When asked if he can continue carrying 20 times per game, he nodded emphatically.
“Oh, yeah. Of course,” he said. “I’ve got to do a good job of not taking too many hits. Not getting sacked helps. The offensive line has definitely protected me, so that helps a lot. I just need to make sure I protect myself in the running game.”
Whereas quarterbacks Worley and Nathan Peterman were sacked a combined 31 times in the first eight games, Dobbs has been sacked just once in two games this fall. His mobility clearly makes his offensive linemen better.
“Obviously, Josh helps ‘em out a lot, with getting out of the situations when we get pressure,” freshman tight end Ethan Wolf told IT. “It’s good to have him back there at the position. He obviously brings another dynamic with the run game, and he’s doing a great job with it.”
Dobbs’ mobility also takes some pressure off of running back Jalen Hurd, who recorded a season-high 125 yards at South Carolina.
“Josh being able to run the ball like he does definitely helps me a lot,” Hurd said. “You really don’t know who’s getting the ball. With him having that run threat, you have to respect him and respect me, as well. It’s a different look.”
Best of all, Dobbs has improved his passing significantly since last season, when he basically couldn’t hit water if he fell out of a canoe. Through two games he is completing 58.3 percent of his passes with 4 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, an average of 246.5 yards per game and a passer-efficiency rating of 128.6. By comparison, he threw just 2 touchdowns with 6 interceptions last fall, averaging 139.0 yards per game with an efficiency rating of 103.3.
“He can pass very well, too,” Hurd noted, “so for him to do that (provide a dual threat) really helps the entire team.”
This duality makes Dobbs especially dangerous in the one-minute drill at the end of each half. Against South Carolina he drove the Vols 80 yards in the final 1:19 of the second quarter, completing 2 of 4 passes for 35 yards and rushing for another 53, including a 36-yard TD burst with seven seconds left in the half. He then directed hurry-up touchdown drives of 10 plays/75 yards and nine plays/85 yards in the final five minutes of regulation to force overtime. On the former he completed 5 of 7 passes for 53 yards, keeping three times for 22 yards and a touchdown. On the latter he completed 5 of 5 passes for 77 yards and scrambled for eight yards on a third-and-one.
Head coach Butch Jones concedes that Dobbs’ mobility is especially beneficial in one-minute drills, noting: “It helps because he can escape the pocket. We did a very good job of getting out of bounds and stopping the clock Saturday night. Sometimes it’s not gaining yards; it’s extending plays by throwing the ball out of bounds and living another down. Obviously, that aids in the one-minute drill.”
Clearly, Dobbs’ mobility has made an overwhelming impact on the Vol offense. He has rushed for 241 yards the past two games, whereas Hurd contributed 184 over the same span. Still, Dobbs disputes the idea that Vol coaches are utilizing him as a running quarterback.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a runner,” he said. “I run when I’m needed to, when we need a play. When people are covered downfield, I make a play, get downfield and get out of bounds. I wouldn’t say they’ve pushed me to (run more). Obviously, there are some designed runs which have helped out our offense by adding another element.
“I can run but I’m not a running quarterback, per se.”
Whatever you say, Rocket Man.
Dobbs speaks following Tuesday's practice