What a game. It’s been quite a while since the Tennessee Volunteers have won a game as important as their 38-28 victory over the Florida Gators. The win gives the Vols their first win over Florida since 2004, and the inside track to the SEC East.
The game didn’t start out well, as the Gators went up 21-0, and led 21-3 at half. Despite having good field position for most of the half, the Vols couldn’t capitalize, totaling only 162 yards and 3 points. After Dobbs threw his second interception of the game on the first possession of the second half, it looked all but over for the Vols.
But all of a sudden, the offense finally found its rhythm. The Vols exploded for 336 yards, scoring 38 straight points en route to a massive comeback victory. Dobbs led the charge, throwing for a career high 4 touchdowns in the second half. Offensive coordinator Mike DeBord called a brilliant second half, dialing up route concepts designed to attack Florida’s aggressive man coverage time and time again. With that being said, let’s take a look at Dobbs’ four touchdown passes that blew the game open.
TOUCHDOWN #1 – Joshua Dobbs to Jalen Hurd
The Vols’ first touchdown of the game came on a very well-designed play action pass. Tennessee lined up in a split back set with Jalen Hurd to the right of Dobbs with Alvin Kamara to his left. Jason Croom, aligned as an H-Back motioned to the left side of the formation.
The most common play run out of this formation is inverted veer. Mike DeBord went to the inverted veer out of the split back formation a variety of times against Ohio, as well as earlier in the game against Florida. The Gators were prepared to defend the run play, as their playside linebackers were flying to the ball.
Here, DeBord attempted to take advantage of the overaggressive Gators defense by faking the inverted veer. Center Dylan Wiesman pulled to the right, while Dobbs faked a handoff to Kamara on a sweep to in the same direction.
DeBord packaged the run fake with one of the best play action concepts in the game: the Post/Wheel.
The Post/Wheel is a very good scheme because it can attack a variety of coverages. Last week, we looked at how DeBord used it to attack Ohio’s quarters scheme. It was equally effective versus Florida’s Cover 1.
Dobbs and DeBord both knew pre-snap that the Gators were in Cover 1. It is their top coverage, and what they had been using all day. Versus Cover 1, the post route serves as a clear out. Josh Malone, the flanker, is running his route right at the free safety. By doing so, he is able to take two defenders, the corner in man coverage and the free safety, with him.
This serves to open up room on the sideline for the wheel route. Here, the wheel is run by Jalen Hurd out of the backfield. The hope is to use the run fake to manipulate the nickel back, Duke Dawson. With Kamara sprinting towards the edge and Wiesman pulling across the formation, his eyes should be pulled towards the backfield. One moment of hesitation by Dawson could be all Hurd needs to beat him down the sideline.
On the snap, Dawson responded just as DeBord hoped he would. His eyes stayed in the backfield the whole time and he never noticed Hurd wheeling up the sideline.
The corner and free safety were occupied with the post route, so there was no one left to cover Hurd. Dawson’s eyes didn’t leave the backfield till Dobbs made the throw, and Hurd was wide open at the five yard line. Easy touchdown.
TOUCHDOWN #2 – Joshua Dobbs to Ethan Wolf
Two series later, the Vols put the ball in the end zone again. This time, Dobbs’ pass went to Ethan Wolf.
Tennessee originally lined up in a two tight end set, but before the snap, tight end Jason Croom motioned across the formation into the left slot. This left the Vols with three receivers (Malone, Croom, and Wolf) to the left.
The playcall for DeBord was called Smash. The route concept is simple. The outside receiver, Malone on this play, runs a quick hitch route. The number two receiver (Croom) will either run a corner or a fade, while the number three receiver (Wolf) will run right down the seam.
This is an effective play versus zone and man alike. Versus zone, the quarterback can hit the quick hitch if the cornerback drops in deep coverage. If the defense is playing with split safeties or no safeties, then the seam route by the number three receiver is an option.
However, when DeBord called this play, he had man coverage in mind. If the defense is playing Cover 1, as Florida had been all day, then the fade route to the number two receiver is the best place to go. The middle seam should hold the free safety, giving Croom, at 6’5”, 246 pounds, a chance to make a play.
However, on this snap, Florida did what was unexpected. They went away from Cover 1 and played a pattern match zone. Pre-snap, both safeties walked up in the box. When Dobbs saw there was no deep middle of the field defender, he knew he would have Wolf on the seam route.
The Gators rushed five and played man coverage on Jauan Jennings and Jalen Hurd to the weak side. Once Florida recognized the route distribution, linebacker Jarrad Davis became a man coverage player on Wolf. Davis was no match for the Vols tight end. With no deep safety, Davis didn’t have help and Wolf was open for Tennessee’s second touchdown of the day.
On this play a lot of credit has to go to Dobbs. The Gators beat Tennessee up front with a well executed stunt. The stunt left guard Jashon Robertson and tackle Brett Kendrick blocking the same player, while Florida defensive end Keivonnis Davis came free. Dobbs stood tall in the pocket and took a shot from Davis, while still dropping the ball over the top to Wolf. The pass was a little bit out in front, but Wolf made a great play to extend and reel the ball in.
TOUCHDOWN #3 – Joshua Dobbs to Jauan Jennings
On the next possession, the Vols put the ball in the end zone again, this time on a well designed shot play.
Facing 1st and ten from the Vols’ 33 yard line, DeBord decided to test the Gators downfield. The play was designed to go to Jauan Jennings all the way. Tennessee lined up with two receivers and a tight end to the left, in the boundary, with Jennings, the split end, split nearly to the sideline, isolated on the right side.
Jennings was matched up with the Gators’ top cover corner, Jalen Tabor. DeBord called for Jennings to run a sluggo (slant and go) route. The double move aimed to take advantage of Florida’s aggressive press man coverage.
Both Croom and Hurd stayed back to block. The backside receivers ran vertical routes, designed to pull the free safety away from Jennings.
Right before the snap, Florida rotated into a 1 high shell, just what Dobbs and DeBord were looking for. With no safety over the top of Jennings, the Vols had a chance to hit the home run on the double move.
An important aspect of this play is how Dobbs was able to move the free safety with his eyes. After receiving the snap, Dobbs dropped back and looked left, causing the safety to open his hips towards the double receiver side, away from Jennings. The middle of the field safety would be unlikely to make a play on the ball anyways, but Dobbs made sure he would never have a chance.
Isolated versus Tabor, Jennings won with his route. The double move caught Tabor off guard, and the Florida corner fell when he had to try to suddenly change direction. Jennings was wide open down the sideline. After bobbling the ball, Jennings finally secured it and ran down the sideline for a career long 67 yard touchdown reception.
Once again, huge credit goes to Dobbs for standing tough in the pocket and giving Jennings a chance to make a play. Left tackle Brett Kendrick was beat by the defensive tackle, and Dobbs took another hit. But just like before, he stood tough, stepped into his throw, and dropped a dime in the face of pressure.
TOUCHDOWN #4 – Joshua Dobbs to Josh Malone
After a Todd Kelly Jr. interception, the Vols got the ball again in scoring position. Their lead was now 24-21, but Tennessee had all the momentum and wanted to keep their foot on the gas.
After two plays went for no gain, the Vols were stuck in a 3rd and ten at the Gators’ 42 yard line.
DeBord, fully expecting Cover 1 man coverage, went back to one of his favorite third down playcalls. If you read last week’s Vols Film Study, this play will look familiar to you. DeBord went back to the same double slant concept that he used on a critical third down a week ago.
This time, the formation was a little different but the route concept was the same. Malone originally lined up in the backfield, with Wolf as the slot receiver to the right. Pre-snap, Malone motioned out and lined up right behind Wolf, in a stacked alignment.
It is very hard to play man coverage versus a stacked receiver look. There is no way to press the back receiver, so most defenses use a check called Banjo to defend stack sets. Banjo is a two over two pattern match, meaning that two defenders will line up over the stack and defend the receivers after they make their breaks on their routes. One defender will take the first receiver to break outside, while the other will take the first defender to break inside.
Florida used Banjo against Wolf and Malone, with linebacker Alex Anzalone playing inside leverage and Dawson, the nickel, playing with outside leverage.
This was just what DeBord expected. The veteran offensive coordinator called a route concept designed to beat Banjo – the double slant. With Wolf breaking inside first, Anzalone would automatically take him, leaving the Dawson matched up with Malone. The Vols’ star receiver ran a crisp route, jabbing his outside foot in the ground and cutting inside. Dawson, playing with outside leverage, never stood a chance versus the crisp, in-breaking route.
Malone caught the ball at the 31 yard line and his speed took over. He took off towards the left sideline and outran Dawson and free safety Marcus Maye to the checkerboards.
This touchdown put the Vols up 31-21, and effectively ended Florida’s hopes of a comeback. Minutes later, Dobbs would tack on another score on the ground. A Gators’ garbage time score would make the final score 38-28, ending the Gators’ winning streak and giving Butch Jones his biggest win since coming to Knoxville.
A lot of credit for Tennessee’s historic comeback has to go to Mike DeBord, Josh Dobbs, and the Tennessee receivers. In the first half, Florida came out and beat the Vols with their aggressive press man coverage. DeBord came out of the locker room with some well-designed passing concepts designed to attack the Gators’ Cover 1 scheme. Dobbs stood tall with pressure in his face and didn’t hesitate to throw downfield versus Florida’s tight man coverage. Dobbs ended up with career highs in both passing touchdowns and passing yards, most of which came in the second half. Wolf’s catch was a critical play for the tight end who has recently struggled with drops, while Jennings and Malone both stepped up in a big way, providing Dobbs with big play threats downfield.
Editor’s Note: Seth Price writes Vols Film Study weekly for FOX Sports Knoxville. You can see more of his work at Football Concepts. He is also the author of Fast and Furious: Butch Jones and the Tennessee Volunteer’s Offense, which is available on Amazon.com.