Knoxville, Tenn.--(UTSports) While Joshua Dobbs is taking classes in his major Aerospace Engineering, he is also continuing his coursework in UT Football 101. As he prepares for his first college start - on the road at No. 10 Missouri - the true freshman is ready for the task at hand according to his position coach and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian.
"He and Riley (Ferguson) both - I've said this before and I'll say it again - are as advanced for freshmen that I've ever had," said Bajakian. "Their knowledge of the playbook and their skillsets are good. From a game plan standpoint, I feel confident that [Dobbs] has a firm understanding of everything we've done in the past and everything we're planning on this week."
Dobbs' first step after being named the starter by head coach Butch Jones was out of his Physics for Engineers class - his favorite course at UT - and into the offensive lineman's meeting room.
"I did not [know he was going to attend the meeting.] But I'm not surprised either," said Bajakian. "That's the kind of guy he is and that's the presence he has."
The Alpharetta, Ga., native displayed that presence and control in one of the toughest environments last week - against the nation's top team at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
"If you know Josh at all or if you've been around him at all, that's how he carries himself all the time," said Bajakian. "He's a very confident player and person. He was able to step into that situation - even in those conditions - and exude that confidence.
"As much as anything, his presence with the entire offense has stepped up a notch. He's got a little bit more command presence knowing that he's the guy. He's exhibiting more confidence."
On the field, Bajakian has also noticed some tangible improvements in the rookie.
"His throwing mechanics have improved; his accuracy has improved, and obviously his knowledge of the offense has improved," said Bajakian. "He started at ground zero and now I feel he has a great grasp of the offense. Part of the process in becoming a champion is improving on a daily basis, and he's approached each day with that in mind."
Despite Dobbs being just the eighth true freshman to start at quarterback for the University of Tennessee, Bajakian says he won't play it safe under the lights at Faurot Field on Saturday.
"We'll use his skillset to our advantage," said Bajakian. "He does a lot of good things and I don't think you can ever play scared, no matter what position you are. No matter how healthy, we're going out to win the game. That's our goal. We're not going to keep any bullets in the gun."
DEFENDING MIZZOU'S TALENT
In just their second year, the Missouri Tigers are earning their keep in the Southeastern Conference. One of the biggest ways the Tigers have done so is through their explosive offense that contains numerous weapons not only at quarterback but also at wide receiver.
This week, Tennessee Volunteers' defensive backs coach Willie Martinez has stressed the importance of understanding and implementing the defensive calls made during game time.
"You're talking about understanding the defense that's called versus their formation, the down and distance, the situation in the game," said Martinez. "It's all about situational football and then you throw in, who are the go-to guys. Obviously, they have several guys. They do a good job of spreading it around and executing."
Martinez recognizes the talent within the Mizzou offense and their ability to execute in many ways.
"It's another group that's very talented- have a lot of receptions, a lot of touchdowns," Martinez said. "They spread you out and create issues as far as space, so we have to do a really good job of tightening our coverage up and making plays."
With that, Martinez will look to his defense to be prepared in a new road environment. In particular, he will look to true freshman, Jalen Reeves- Maybin to step up against the Tiger offense.
"Jalen has done a great job since he's been here," said Martinez. "He's dependable. He understands our defense. He picked up our defense right away, like I said before, when he was in the back end. I feel very confident because he's confident."
"We just want to stay focused and make sure we pay attention to details and execute the defense."
THE TOUGH ROAD CONTINUES
This season, the Vols have taken on some tough road opponents starting with No. 2 Oregon across the country, immediately followed by a top-20 team in Gainesville, and last weekend taking on the No. 1 team in the country on their home turf.
The tough road slate continues this weekend against No. 10 Missouri. But the Vols are well prepared.
"When you play on the road and you play Oregon and you play Alabama, those are two tough road games," said defensive coordinator John Jancek. "We have to just do what we do and focus on Tennessee."
The key to gaining an edge on the road? Getting on the board early.
"Get into a rhythm early in the ball game, get out there, get our cleats in the grass, make some plays, develop some momentum and then consistently play that way for four quarters," said Jancek. "There is no secret, we have to go out and execute, we have to go out and make plays. We can't worry about what the stadium seats or how loud it is, anything of that stuff. We just have to focus on us and execute our defensive play and our style of football."
A tough SEC road slate is nothing new to Tennessee, or any other team in the conference for that matter.
"The SEC is a great conference, great coaching, and tremendous skill with in the conference," said Jancek. "Probably the biggest thing, when you look at the SEC, the thing that jumps out at you right away is the line of scrimmage, both the offensive and defensive lines, the size combined with the speed and athleticism."
"That is probably the biggest separated in the Southeastern Conference," continued Jancek. "We know each week it is going to be a challenge, this week will be no different."
PLAYS IN SPACE
This weekend against Missouri it is all about one thing for the Vol linebackers.
Making plays in space.
The Tigers are known to spread the field. The Vols need to man their gaps.
"The game of football now is all about space," said defensive coordinator John Jancek. "You see these offenses, they are throwing bubble screens, they are throwing smoke screens and getting the ball out in space and forcing you to make plays."
"Unfortunately, we have been a victim of a couple of those this year," continued Jancek. "That is something that we have to continue to work on and address every week."
The Vols, who have improved week-in and week-out, will see where they stand in making plays in space against the tough Mizzou offense.
"It is all about making plays in space [this weekend]," said linebackers coach Tommy Thigpen. "That is why they do it. If your guys can't make plays in space, it is going to be a long game. I am saying it now, those guys block the best I have ever seen on the perimeter. They are big, they are physical, they latch on, they stay on."
"Our number one goal is to make plays in space and get off the blocks."
Here are sound bites from Coach Stripling, Coach Jancek, Coach Bajakian and Coach Martinez:
ASSOCIATE HEAD COACH STEVE STRIPLING
»(On Missouri's offensive line)
"Yea it does because I think their all 300-315 pounds and I think the thing they do well - you know I've played Missouri a lot of times and they have that typical mentality to lock on blocks. I think they do an especially good job of sustaining blocks and staying on it. As far as pass rushing, I think they do a good job at getting the ball out on time, a lot of time to throw with one step drops, that kind of thing so I think they're an outstanding offensive line."
»(On the physicality of Missouri)
"Well I'm sure it does but if you look they're 236 yards a game rushing so that was the first thing I told my guys is that `hey, everybody has that mentality that they throw it all the time'. I think they're top two in the conference in terms of rushing with 236 yards so we've got that picture."
»(On defensive line performance against Alabama)
"We have, we've talked about it and I think you sit around and try and figure out the factors of why you didn't play good but again it just boils down to we have responsibilities and being in the gap in the run game and putting pressure on the quarterback. They responded well and they understand that it's on their shoulders this Saturday."
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE BAJAKIAN
»(On Dobbs' performance against Alabama)
"As is always the case, there were positives and there were negatives and things he can improve upon and things he did well. He's come a long way since his arrival on campus and since our first practice, and there is stuff that we identified in the course of the game that he needs to improve upon and continue to work on. But overall, he handled the situation well and I'm looking forward to how he'll handle this game as a starter."
»(On focusing on things to get Dobbs going on Saturday)
"As is always the case, we're focused on doing what he does well. We're focused on executing the offense, managing the game, and it doesn't change much no matter who the starter is. That is the goal of all our guys, to manage the game plan, know the attention to the play caller and get us in favorable situations."
»(On rebounding offensively)
"It's a process; it's always a process. We're always going to examine the things we did well and the things we need to improve on from the Alabama game. I don't think anybody's confidence is shot by any means. We know it's part of the snap-and-clear mentality. No matter how good the previous play was and no matter how poor the play was - same thing no matter how well or how poorly we played the previous game - we're focused on the next snap. I'm not concerned about the lack of touches."
»(On Pig Howard's lack of touches against Alabama)
"He was targeted as the first read in the progression quite a few times - 11 or 12 to be exact - and then another three or four times he would have been the first progression based on coverage. [Alabama] did a good job of taking him away. We'll obviously find more ways to get him guaranteed touches."
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOHN JANCEK
»(On the defensive backs)
"The guys had a really good practice today. We got them all reps, they are all out there moving around and doing a good job. Great communication. We will have them ready to go. We know we have a great challenge with the Missouri wideouts, their speed, they are tall, those guys on the outside go up and get the football so we have to play well."
»(On the morale of the defense)
"The morale of the group is one that we know we didn't play well and we know we played a very good opponent, but we didn't reach our potential which is certainly disappointing for us. We have talked about it, we have addressed it. They have had a great week of practice, they are focused, they are ready to go. I am excited to see them bounce back against Missouri and see what we can do."
»(On tailback Marcus Murphy)
"He is really good. He is really fast. They get the ball to him in a variety of ways. Excellent quickness. All three of the backs are really similar. When you see them on film you don't really know which one it is until you have a chance to see their numbers. They are all very quick, have the ability to cut the ball back and have great acceleration. They are good, another great offense."
ASSISTANT HEAD COACH/DBs COACH WILLIE MARTINEZ
»(On Missouri's skill players)
"Very talented. The [L'Damian] Washington kid and [Dorial] Green-Beckham, obviously, we were a part of recruiting him a couple of years ago, so we know how talented he is. It's really the whole receiving corps. It's another group that's very talented - have a lot of receptions, a lot of touchdowns. They spread you out and create issues as far as space, so we have to do a really good job of tightening our coverage up and making plays."
»(On preparing for Missouri quarterbacks)
"They're very similar in the sense that they're very athletic. They both have very good arms. The biggest difference is obviously James [Franklin] is a lot more experienced. Being a senior, he's played a lot more than Maty [Mauk]. Then again, Maty - any time you have a young man like himself, and I'm talking about Maty Mauk, that's been an Ohio Player of the Year, he's always been a player, he's very creative. Sometimes plays aren't there and he's very creative and makes plays. He's dangerous. We've been playing those guys this year, so it's not like we haven't played a team, anybody that's like them, because we have.
"I think the guys are used to it. They understand it, they understand the stressing and how good they are. We just have to do a good job of understanding the situation of the game and whatever formation they're in and the down and distance and really do a good job on first and second down and get them the long yardage like any other team we try and do, but very important against those guys."