All week long Tennessee heard how much it needed to improve its passing game. The coaches said it. The reporters insinuated it. The fans clamored for it.
The Vols were averaging just 165 yards in the air through their first two games, and playing Western Carolina presented a chance for Mike DeBord’s offense to sling the ball around and attempt some of the intermediate and long routes that haven’t opened up so far in 2015.
The exercise worked, even if it was against an FCS opponent.
Josh Dobbs threw for more yards in one half Saturday against Western Carolina (144 with two touchdowns) than he did in a double overtime game against Oklahoma last week in the 55-10 win.
“We wanted to get him going and I thought Josh did a good job of managing the game and making good decisions with the football,” head coach Butch Jones said. “So, you know, when to hand the ball off, when to run the ball, when to throw the ball out on the perimeter. I thought he did some good things decision making.”
Dobbs connected on 15-of-21 passing and didn’t even have to participate past halftime after leading his team to a 41-3 lead at the break. The junior made four throws over 10 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown strike to freshman Preston Williams, to help build the passing game’s confidence heading into Florida next Saturday.
Dobbs’ understudy was even able to get in on the action. Freshman backup quarterback Quinten Dormady played the entire second half, going 6-of-8 for 94 yards and a score. Dormady nailed Williams on the run for a 24-yard touchdown pass of his own, gaining confidence of his own and valuable reps in the process.
“I was really, really excited about the play of Quinten Dormady,” Jones said. “I thought Quinten did some very, very good things.”
The passing game still needs work, and Western Carolina pales in comparison to the secondaries Tennessee will face this season when SEC play begins next week against Florida, but this game served as an uplifting boost after the passing game struggled last week against Oklahoma. The offensive line handled its business up front and the Vols’ receivers performed well after the catch.
“It was great to come out tonight and execute well,” Dobbs said. “That was big. The receivers made plays. They caught the ball and made plays after the catch, which was big.”
Throwing the ball early, getting it out on the perimeter and establishing a rhythmic tempo was good for the offense after suffering catastrophic misery just seven days ago. Tennessee was able to air it out a little more than it has been able to so far while it dominated a less talented FCS team in a 40-point win.
It’s not an exactly an incalculable momentum spike, but it’s a solid step in the right direction which will serve the Vols well as they hit the road to visit cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and his shutdown secondary in Gainesville Saturday afternoon.
“It’s always great to come out and get another win,” Dobbs said. “We talked about never feeling that feeling we had last week again. We came out and we were obviously just frustrated about last week, so coming out tonight and getting a win was big for us and is big momentum to carry us forward.”