Perhaps the biggest factor in the Tennessee Volunteers’ 24-21 loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks was turnovers. Turnovers have plagued the Vols’ season. The team has looked sloppy and undisciplined at times, and against South Carolina, it cost them.
The prime culprit was quarterback Joshua Dobbs. The senior threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball once. Both interceptions were critical plays in the game, and both came as a result of a bad decision by Dobbs to throw into coverage.
Facing a third-and-seventeen from their own 14 yard line, Tennessee lined up in a trips formation, with Jauan Jennings as the only receiver to the left. Mike DeBord called for a smash concept to the boundary. This means that Jennings would run a corner route, while running back John Kelly would run to the flat.
This route concept is designed to put a vertical stretch on the cornerback. If he jumps the flat route in front of him, then Dobbs should have room to throw the corner route in front of the safety. If the corner drops to take away the deeper throw, then Dobbs must throw underneath to the flat.
For Dobbs, the corner should be his only read.
On third-and-long, the Gamecocks played a Tampa Two zone, designed to take away the long pass. In Tampa Two, the safety is responsible for the deep half of the field, while the corner is responsible for the flat.
Typically, this coverage would lead the quarterback into throwing the corner route once the cornerback jumped the flat route. However, in such a long distance situation, the corner knew he could rally to the flat and make the tackle. His priority became to take away a deeper throw.
The corner, Jamarcus King, dropped in his zone and read Dobbs’ eyes. He recognized the flat route in front of him, but saw Dobbs staring down the deeper route.
King began to sink in coverage, and made his break on the ball on the throw. He was able to reach out and make the interception on a throw that never should’ve been made. Dobbs did not read the corner correctly and forced the ball into coverage. The flat route was clearly open, but Dobbs was more focused on Jennings than he was going through his progression.
Left tackle Brett Kendrick was pushed back into Dobbs, forcing a less than perfect throw. But the biggest issue was the decision. Dobbs should’ve been reading the corner and hit Kelly in the flat. The ball should’ve never been thrown towards Jennings.
If you recall, this is a very similar play to Cameron Sutton’s interception against Appalachian State. Sutton saw a very similar route concept and baited the quarterback into a poor decision while playing Cover Two zone.
This mistake eventually cost the Vols a touchdown. Dobbs’ second interception would prove to be perhaps even more costly.
With only 3:50 remaining in the game and trailing by 3, the Vols needed a score. After some success throwing downfield on the previous drive, DeBord decided to go with a playaction pass.
The Vols lined up in an empty formation with Jennings and Kelly to the left, and Jason Croom, Josh Smith, and Josh Malone to the right.
Kelly came in jet motion, and Dobbs faked a handoff to him on an inverted veer play. Center Dylan Wiesman pulled right to sell the run fake.
The route concept was four verticals. Jennings, Smith, and Malone all ran straight down the field, while Croom ran a “bender” route towards the opposite hash.
Despite the four routes going straight downfield, this is not a deep shot play. Rather, the design is to hit a receiver at a depth of roughly 20 yards.
The Vols are hoping the Gamecocks will be playing a Cover Three zone. Cover Three is a three deep/four under coverage where the two corners and the free safety are each responsible for a deep third of the field. With four vertical routes, one receiver will be open. The free safety will be forced to choose between the two inside receivers.
By incorporating the route concept with the run fake, the Vols are hoping to manipulate the Gamecocks’ linebackers. If they step up, Dobbs will have plenty of space to hit the open slot receiver.
Sure enough, South Carolina played Cover Three. The run fake sucked up the linebackers, and Dobbs had plenty of space to drop the ball in to a receiver over the linebackers and in front of the safety. As you can see here, the free safety moved to cover Croom, and Smith was wide open once he cleared the outside linebacker.
If Dobbs throws this ball in rhythm, it’s a completion to Smith in stride at the 40 yard line with room to run. The ball should’ve been thrown as soon as Dobbs hit the final step in his drop. Instead, he waited nearly a second and a half after completing his drop to make the throw.
The throw was late so King, defending Malone on the sideline, was able to read Dobbs’ eyes and break on the ball before the throw was even made. Dobbs’ hesitation turned a 20 yard throw into a 35 yard throw. With the decision coming late and the throw now being much longer, King had plenty of time to come off Malone and cut in front of Smith for the interception. Had Dobbs thrown on time without hesitation, there is no way King would’ve been able to get to the ball.
So why was the throw late? There is no way to know. Dobbs hesitated and it cost the Vols possession of the ball. Had he thrown on time, the Vols likely would’ve had a 20+ yard gain to start the drive, and plenty of momentum to finish the drive with a score and get the win.
Overall, this was a very bad game for Tennessee. Dobbs played perhaps his worst game as a Vol. Neither one of these interceptions were inaccurate throws, but both were picked off as a result of a poor decision.. The first put the defense in a terrible spot and ended up costing Tennessee three points. The second eliminated the Vols best scoring chance at the end of the game.
It is very disappointing to see a senior quarterback making these types of mistakes. On the road in the SEC, it is very difficult to win when you turn the ball over. Credit South Carolina for taking advantage of the breaks and getting the win. The Vols have a lot to work on as they look ahead to Tennessee Tech.
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.