Knoxville, Tenn.--(UTSports) UNFLAPPABILITY
Getting your first career collegiate action against the No. 1 team in the country on their home turf, and then following that up with your first career start against a top-10 team on the road would be enough to make anyone nervous.
But not Joshua Dobbs.
Dobbs has an unflappable confidence about him.
"Confidence has never been lacking with Josh," said offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. "I think what he has benefitted from are the added reps that he has gotten in practice and the added reps that he has gotten in the game."
To the outside world, Dobbs has made a quick change in his football appearance. One would think it would be an improvement in confidence, but really it's just basic fundamentals.
"There has been a change, but I wouldn't say it is with his confidence," continued Bajakian. "Fundamentally he is improving every day; his ball location is improving every day. His decision making process is becoming quicker. Those are the main changes I see, it is natural with the added reps that he is receiving that those changes would occur."
The freshman made a few mistakes last Saturday against a Missouri defense that leads the nation in interceptions. But Dobbs was not rattled.
"He has done a good job of having that snap and clear mentality," said Bajakian. "He is ever even-keeled almost even unflappable at times. I think that is a good trait for a quarterback to have."
Dobbs is also known for his book smarts, and those skills helped him to learn the Tennessee playbook very quickly.
"He and Riley (Ferguson) both have grasped the offense quickly," said Bajakian. "I think there is a translation between his natural intelligence and his football intelligence, same thing with Riley and I don't think that is always the case for football players but these guys it is."
"I think both of those guys are further along as true freshmen then other true freshmen that I have ever had in the offense."
NOTHING OVER THE TOP
Averaging over 306 yards per game, No. 7/10 Auburn leads the SEC and ranks sixth nationally in rushing offense.
The Tigers' high-powered ground game presents problems for all defensive groups, but Tennessee secondary coach Willie Martinez still wants his guys reading pass first.
"I think [the run game] has a lot to do with Auburn's [success in the pass game]," said Martinez. "They do a good job of running the football, which sucks up the play action, and they've been able to get the ball over the top of a lot of defensive backs."
Sophomore wideout Sammie Coates has been the Tigers' primary target over the top this season. Standing at 6-foot-2, Coates has been able to hit on 11 plays of 20 yards or more, and currently leads the nation with an average of 26.58 yards per catch.
"He's done a great job of catching the ball and the quarterback (Nick) Marshall has been on-point," said Martinez. "Whether it's Marshall or Jeremy Johnson, they've both done a great job.
"You have to be very disciplined. It's a lot like an option football team, because you have all the misdirection. You have to focus on your assignment and doing your job, and then in the backend it's the same thing, but you have to do a very good job with your eyes. You need to read your keys and stay disciplined. That's been the main focus this week."
Coming to Tennessee after coaching Auburn's secondary last season, Martinez never doubted the Tigers' talent and ability to claw their way to the nation's biggest turnaround through nine games.
"They just won a national championship three years ago," said Martinez. "It's a different team, but obviously they have talent. They always have talent. That's never changed. They've got different players that are making plays at crucial times and obviously they're having a great year."
CONTAINING THE QUARTERBACK
This week's game against Auburn will pit the Tennessee defense against a scrambling quarterback for the third time in four weeks as the Tigers' Nick Marshall has averaged 65 rushing yards per game.
UT was able to contain South Carolina's Connor Shaw to 78 yards and 4.1 yards per rush but last week Missouri's Maty Mauk was able to pick up 114 yards on the ground (8.8-yard average), including a 28-yard scamper on a third-and-10 that set up a missed field goal right before halftime.
As scrambling quarterback can be a real nuisance when the defense is trying to get off the field on third down.
"It's been the quarterback taking off on us," defensive coordinator John Jancek said. "When we went into the Carolina game, Connor Shaw had that reputation and we really worked hard on it with our D-line and our linebackers, keeping what we call our points on the quarterback. We were able to contain Connor. We've continued to emphasize that and have not had the same results. I think Mauk's faster and quicker than I gave him credit for initially."
There were four or five different times when Tennessee had free runners to Mauk, but the Vols were just unable to get him on the ground. Jancek pointed out that the solution is not necessarily a spy on the quarterback, but instead maintaining angles and focus on the quarterback's position late in a play.
"Sometimes when you spy the quarterback you kind of open up a can of worms in some other things like in the run game," he said. "We've just got to do a better job of keeping our points on the quarterback, not only with our front, but also with our linebackers when we're pressuring and our DBs when we're pressuring."
Jancek and the defense are preparing for more of the same from Marshall this week. Last week in Auburn's 35-17 win over Arkansas, the Tigers threw the ball just nine times.
"They have a lot of misdirection," Jancek said. "They really test your eyes. And then Marshall - anytime you run the quarterback, that's the great equalizer. We've just got to do a great job of containing him and getting to him if the opportunity presents itself."
BACK TO THE BASICS
The Tennessee defense started the season off with six sacks through the first three games, while also taking down South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw four times.
Since then, the defensive front has yet to register a sack against Alabama or Missouri.
"When you face tough times like this, you are sitting around asking yourself that question," said defensive line coach Steve Stripling on the why there is a lack of sacks. "You don't sleep well at night because you are worried about those issues."
Stripling's thoughts have led him to one conclusion.
"I really do think that it is just a breakdown of fundamentals," said Stripling. "For whatever reason we were not executing, we were not where we should have been all the time. Obviously, we weren't applying pressure to the quarterback."
Once again the Vols will be facing a mobile quarterback in Auburn's Nick Marshall. Not anything new for UT in 2013.
"Obviously, they have an outstanding running attack and when you add the mobile quarterback we know that there are times, especially in the red zone, when you really have to prepare for the quarterback run," said Stripling. "So it is just another added dimension. We have played active quarterbacks. So it is a point of emphasis for us."
The Vols will work to getting back to the basics this week. Stopping the run, sacking the quarterback and minding their gaps.
"In tough situations like it, there are no secrets, there are no answers," said Stripling. "It is grinding out, narrow your focus, get back to basics, get back to your basic responsibilities. That is what we are striving to do."
Here are sound bites from Coach Stripling, Coach Bajakian, Coach Jancek and Coach Martinez:
ASSOCIATE HEAD COACH STEVE STRIPLING
»(On the focus of the defensive line this week)
"Well, obviously, if you go back to day one we talked about the standard for our defensive line is run gap integrity, accountability, and when it is a pass, apply pressure. Right now we now, in neither case, are we doing what we need to do. This week has been a focus on getting back to the basics, working on those simple premises. That if they run the ball, I need to be in my gap, if they pass the ball, I need to get to the quarterback."
»(On Daniel McCullers)
"McCullers is just like all the D-linemen, we are not doing our job well enough. We are not consistent in the run game and being where we should be. And obviously we aren't pressuring the quarterback. I am not pointing out anybody. I am just saying, as a defensive line, it is our responsibility and we are not getting it done. That is what we are striving for."
»(On challenges of playing a team that wants to play matchups)
"I think every week you face different challenges. This week, they have a tight end but he is usually in the back field somewhere. It still boils down to in simplest terms, we just have to learn to take each play one at a time, be sound this play, a first down is really importance to us, we aren't playing well on first down to make the quarterback be a quarterback on third down.
"We have to get ahead of the sticks. We are having break downs on first down so we just need to build a wall at the line of scrimmage and just be accountable on first down."
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR MIKE BAJAKIAN
»(On drives stalling in Missouri territory)
"Finishing drives, there are a lot of factors. No. 1 I think third down execution, we weren't very good on third down. We were able to earn first downs on first and second downs, at different points of the game. We were not very good at third downs and that is where drives stalled and where we need to improve."
»(On how good Alabama's and Missouri's defense are)
"That is part of the evaluation, but we are always going to look ourselves in the mirror and say that it starts with us and how we operate and execute. I have always started with myself and looked at ways that I can improve the results that we were able to achieve on Saturday."
»(On the offensive line performance at Missouri)
"Again as an offense we would have liked to execute better. You can point to the offensive line or whoever you want. You can point to me. We talk about 11 hats being on the same page and we did not execute as an offense like we wanted. We are working on improving it."
»(On the run game)
"There are a lot of things. It comes down to play calls, techniques, situations. We obviously, coming off of that game, they are a very good defense but we need to improve in the run game in all of those areas."
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR JOHN JANCEK
»(On how Auburn makes you defend in space)
"Their best running plays are when they bounce the ball outside. They do a great job on the perimeter blocking. So it's going to be challenge. When that happens, you have to make plays in space. You've got to close space. You've got to take great angles. You've got to have good recovery speed and it forces you to play with great leverage."
»(On if Auburn will play with as much speed as Oregon)
"No, but they mix it up. They go fast when they need to. I anticipate them coming in and trying to gas us early and try to set the tempo with a fast pace. We expect that and we've seen it throughout the course of the year. We see it a lot in practice, so we'll be ready for that."
»(On quarterback Nick Marshall)
"He's really good. He has excellent body control and great change of direction. He's a guy that can run physical and make you miss. You've got to get a lot of guys to get him on the ground."
»(On Jalen Reeves-Maybin)
"Last week he was a safety. Now he's back to linebacker. With our depth and the issues that we have on defense, he's a guy that's really smart, so he can kind of bounce around and if something happens, he can go in and function. Obviously he doesn't have a lot of experience being a true freshman, but he's smart like I said and can get us out of a game in a variety of different positions.
"We've played him at linebacker the last few weeks. He's starting to become more comfortable at that position. It's just a matter of time before he sees the field for us."
ASSISTANT HEAD COACH/DBs COACH WILLIE MARTINEZ
»(On stopping the opponent's momentum)
"You're trying to regain the momentum. That's football; that's what the game of football is all about. When you have the momentum, keep the momentum and when you lose it, try to regain it. We were unable to do that at the end of the first half, which was really detrimental for us."
»(On giving up big plays)
"When you play on defense and in the secondary in particular, and you make a mistake, the scoreboard changes. When other positions make a mistake the scoreboard doesn't change. That's the difference. When things don't go right, you've got to be able to change the momentum and create and make some plays - turn the ball over, create three-an-outs, get a big hit.
"Those are the things we've really been concentrating and focusing on - changing the momentum just like sudden change. That's how we practice. You have to be able to overcome the adversity."
»(On the DBs being more comfortable at home)
"I think that's with everybody. Again, you have a young group and they're going to feel comfortable being at home. Your routine is the same and it's the same environment. I think there's a little bit of truth to that."