When quarterback Justin Worley was ruled out of the Tennessee-Alabama game with an injury, Vols head coach Butch Jones selected backup quarterback Nathan Peterman as the starter. After two ineffective series, Jones pulled Peterman for third stringer Josh Dobbs.
Dobbs did what no one was expecting; he threw for nearly 200 yards and rushed for 75 against one of the best defenses in the country. How was Dobbs able to play this well in his first game of the season, while facing the talented Crimson Tide defense?
A big reason for Dobbs’ success was adjustments to the gameplan by Jones and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian. The Vols have been known for their zone running scheme. This is what their offensive is built around. Against Alabama, Bajakian went away from the zone runs and actually called more gap runs than zone runs for the first time since he has been at Tennessee.
The result? 181 rushing yards; a season best for the Vols and a season worst for Alabama.
The Vols still ran quite a bit of inside zone, but basically abandoned outside zone. They only ran outside zone twice, both coming with running back Jalen Hurd taking the direct snap in the wildcat formation.
Replacing outside zone in the gameplan was counter. Counter is a gap scheme that has the playside linemen block down to build a “wall” while the backside guard pulls to kick out the playside end, and the H-Back pulls through to lead the ball carrier through the hole and block the playside linebacker.
The Vols usually call counter in every game, but rarely more than a few times per game. Against Alabama, Bajakian dialed up counter 18 times and only attempted inside zone 15 times.
While the move to the gap scheme helped, perhaps the biggest reason for the Vols new found success on the ground was Dobbs ability to run. His athleticism allowed Bajakian to be more creative with his play calling and to dial up some new quarterback runs to keep the defense off guard. A running quarterback makes an offense much more difficult to defend because it changes the numbers of the game.
The most popular new play was the quarterback counter. Bajakian ran this play a couple of different ways to get the ball in Dobbs’ hands moving downhill.
The first way Tennessee ran this play was with a fake jet sweep. Slot receiver Von Pearson came in motion directly before the snap. Dobbs faked the hand off to him then ran counter in the opposite direction.
The defense reacted to the jet action, as both the strong safety and the weakside linebacker moved to towards Pearson. This opened up a bigger lane for Dobbs to run through on the other side.There was a big running lane for Dobbs because almost everyone executed their blocks. Unfortunately, center Mack Crowder ended up on the ground and a defensive tackle came free to make the tackle. However, Dobbs was still able to pick up a solid 5 yard gain.
Tennessee also ran the quarterback counter without the jet motion. Instead, Dobbs just faked the hand off the back then ran in the opposite direction.Again, the blocking was solid and a good hole opened up because the defense was frozen by the play fake.Dobbs was hit near the line of scrimmage, but he was able to break the tackle and fall forwards for an 8 yard gain.The very next snap the Vols went back to this play on 3rd and 2. The playside did a good job of sealing off the defensive line, right guard Jashon Robertson kicked out the end, and Dobbs was able to follow H-Back Ethan Wolf through the hole for a 6 yard gain and the first down.Bajakian also ran a version of this play that had the back go in motion right before the snap. The back would run a swing screen and Dobbs had the option to run the counter or throw to the back.
The read player here was typically the strong safety. If he flew down to cover the screen, Dobbs would keep it. If he stayed deep or came inside, Dobbs could throw the screen.Here, the safety reacted to running back Marlin Lane’s motion. Dobbs sees this and already knows pre-snap that the counter will be open.The blocking was great. You can see a huge hole right here. The playside of the line blocked down to build the lane, then the two pullers, left guard Kyler Kerbyson and H-Back Daniel Helm both kicked out their defenders to create the running lane. Dobbs was able to pick up 9 yards on this carry.Here is another example of this play. This time, the strongside linebacker was creeping inside pre-snap so he became the read defender.
Hurd went in motion, but the defense did not react immediately.The linebacker blitzed, so Dobbs pulled the ball and threw to Hurd.Pearson got a great block on the strong safety and Hurd was able to cut back inside for an 11 yard gain and a first down.Tennessee had quite a bit of success with the quarterback counter. However, it was not the only gap scheme the Vols ran. Bajakian adapted an older play and showed a new concept called the power read.
The power read is similar to the inverted veer play the Vols have run in the past, but by adding the power aspect to the play, the inside run is now more effective.
Power is a similar play to counter. There is really only one difference. On counter, the H-Back pulls through to the linebacker and the backside guard kicks out the end. On power, the guard and H-Back exchange responsibilities.
On the power read, the H-Back does not block the end, but leaves him unblocked for the quarterback to read. The quarterback runs the power, while the back runs a sweep. Depending on what the unblocked end does, the quarterback can either keep the ball or hand it to the back.
One of the Vols biggest gains of the game came on the power read. The end crashed to tackle Dobbs, so Dobbs handed to Lane on the sweep. By the time the end reacted, Lane already was to the edge and ran outside a good block from Helm. Receiver Marquez North had an even better block on the corner, and Lane was able to run down the sideline for a 44 yard gain. Later, the Vols went back to this play out of a different look. Pearson came in motion to create a distraction for the defense while the power read action went in the opposite direction. The end went outside to defend Lane, so Dobbs kept up the middle. The rushing lane was wide open and Dobbs gained 8 and a first down.The last way the Vols used Dobbs as a rusher was with a draw. Bajakian only dialed this play up twice, but it resulted in Dobbs best rush of the game.
On 3rd and 5, Tennessee lined up in a spread formation. Expecting a pass, the Crimson Tide only kept 5 defenders in the box.
Dobbs stepped back as if he was passing, and the defensive backs reacted by defending the receivers. The defensive line was easily blocked. The only unblocked defender was the middle linebacker, and Crowder was moving towards him. Unfortunately, Crowder completely missed his block. This just gave Dobbs a chance to make a play, as he made the linebacker miss then cut back over the middle. Lane got out in front and made a key block, while receiver Pig Howard used his body to shield the corner from making a play. Dobbs ended up with 30 yards before he was brought down.Overall, this game showed how the Vols running game is so much more effective with Dobbs as the quarterback. Bajakian made some big adjustments to his gameplan to take advantage of Dobbs’ rushing ability and it paid off big time. The new scheme with Dobbs in the game included much more misdirection, more option, and is much more difficult for the defense to defend.
For information on how the scheme adjustments impacted the passing game, you can read here.