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VOL. 7 | NO. 49 | Saturday, November 29, 2014

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Dave Link

Dobbs the Latest in Line of Dual-Threat UT Quarterbacks

DAVE LINK | The Ledger

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If the University of Tennessee’s football team gains bowl eligibility with a victory Saturday at Vanderbilt, it can look back to a quarterback change Oct. 25 against Alabama as a pivotal point in the season.

That’s when sophomore Joshua Dobbs took over. UT hasn’t been the same since.

Not even a 29-21 loss to No. 19-ranked Missouri last Saturday can put a damper on what Dobbs has done this year.

So let’s revel in the Dobbs show as the Vols (5-6, 2-5 SEC) prepare for Vanderbilt (3-8, 0-7) with a bowl trip on the line. [3 p.m. CT in Nashville, Saturday, Nov. 29].

Tennessee has had other quarterbacks similar to Dobbs, dual-threat guys who could run, throw and electrify Vol fans.

I asked longtime Knoxville writer/author Tom Mattingly about former UT quarterbacks who were mobile, dual threats like Dobbs.

Mattingly, who blogs as “The Vol Historian” for the Knoxville News Sentinel, gives his take on Dobbs-like quarterbacks [in chronological order] he has seen during his decades of watching UT football:

Condredge Holloway (1972-74): Holloway earned the nickname, “the Artful Dodger,” for his running, scrambling and throwing style, the likes of which Vol fans had never seen before.

Condredge Holloway, the first black quarterback to play in the SEC, was unable to play the position in his home state because Alabama Coach Bear Bryant didn’t think his fan base would accept him.

(AP Photo)

In Holloway’s three seasons as the starter, UT went 25-9-2 and went to the 1972 Astro-Bluebonnet Bowl, the 1973 Gator Bowl, and the 1974 Liberty Bowl. He was the first black quarterback in UT and SEC history, and the first black baseball player in UT history, an All-American shortstop in 1975.

Former UT coach Bill Battle (1970-76) signed Holloway out of Huntsville, Ala.

“People just marveled at how good Condredge was,” Mattingly says.

“They signed him, and Bill Battle made the gutty decision to put him at quarterback, because in those days, (Alabama coach) Bear Bryant had told Condredge that Alabama was not ready for an African-American quarterback, and Bill Battle says, ‘Well by gosh, if you’re good enough, you’re going to play quarterback,’ and they put him at quarterback, and I think Coach Battle deserves some credit for taking that stand.”

Holloway, who now serves as UT’s assistant athletics director for student-athlete relations/lettermen, was listed a 5-foot-10, 185 pounds. He was stout and fast.

“In the ’73 Georgia Tech game, he ran over the defensive back who was probably bigger than he was right at the goal line to score,” Mattingly adds. “That’s still on a lot of the highlight films, where he ran over Randy Rhino of Georgia Tech.”

Holloway showed his toughness in the 1974 season opener against UCLA, which ended in a 17-17 tie at Neyland Stadium.

“(Holloway) hurt his knee diving for a touchdown,” Mattingly says. “He ran into one of those big Samoan linebackers in the second or third quarter and they took (Holloway) to UT Hospital.

“They did whatever they did to get him back into the game, and he came back and led us to a tie. But he never was really the same, even though he ended up setting the total offense record somewhere around the Georgia Tech game that year.”

Jimmy Streater (1977-79): After Holloway, UT had Randy Wallace as starting quarterback for two years (1975-76), and then along came Streater, another dual-threat quarterback out of Sylva, N.C.

One of Streater’s highlight plays came in Johnny Majors’ debut as UT’s coach in the 1977 season opener against California, which beat the Vols 27-17 at Neyland Stadium.

“In Coach Majors’ first game, there’s a tape of it somewhere, Streater had an 80-yard touchdown run in the first quarter of the California game,” Mattingly says.

“It really got the crowd energized because it was Coach Majors’ first game back, and everybody’s waiting to see what was going to happen, and all of a sudden, here’s Jimmy Streater, a sophomore who had never started a game, breaking open for 80 yards to the north end of the field for a touchdown, and it’s still one of my most memorable plays.”

Unfortunately, the Vols were a combined 16-17-1 in his three years as the starting quarter.

“Streater’s another one of those guys who was quick as a hiccup and could make things happen if you didn’t account for him or didn’t wrap him up, or you let him inside if you covered the pitch man, you’d have to make sure you tackled him, because if he got past that one guy in the middle of the field, he could go,” Mattingly explains.

Alan Cockrell (1981-83): Steve Alatorre started for one year (1980) after Streater before a tough, hard-nosed Cockrell took over as the starter in 1981.

Cockrell became the first true freshman quarterback to start for the Vols that year, but suffered a knee injury in the fourth game against Auburn and missed the rest of the season as Alatorre returned. Cockrell became one of the first football players to come back from major knee damage and surgery.

“He played well two years, ’82 and ’83, and beat Alabama twice,” Mattingly says. “He did it with his arm and his feet. I just remember the fact that he was just very poised under center against what we thought were two pretty good Alabama teams, Bear Bryant’s last team and Ray Perkins’ first team.

“It seems I remember Alabama in ’83 took the opening kickoff on one of those 10-play, 80-yard, take-four-minutes-off-the-clock drives, and Cockrell came back and threw a touchdown pass on Tennessee’s first play after Alabama had laboriously gone down the field. He threw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Lenny Taylor, and later threw one (a 57-yarder) to Clyde Duncan.”

Cockrell, a bruising runner at 6-2, 210 pounds, was also an All-American outfielder for the Vols. He was the No. 9 pick in the 1984 MLB Draft and passed up his senior year of football with the Vols.

Tony Robinson (1983-85): Robinson was a backup to Cockrell in 1983 before taking over as the starter the next year.

“Coach Majors was always talking about the strength of Tony’s arm, and how he may have looked like a beanpole, but he was a pretty tough customer,” Mattingly recalls.

“He could really hurt you with his feet. He didn’t look like he was covering that much territory, but he’d run with it, and look like he’d gain 6 or 7 yards, and he’d gain 10 or 15.”

Robinson threw for 1,963 yards and 14 touchdowns in 1984, but suffered a career-ending knee injury in the fifth game of ’85 against Alabama, a 16-14 Vols win in Birmingham.

“He was running the option, and an Alabama guy hit him in the knees,” Mattingly says. “It was a legal tackle. You could tell when he went down he wasn’t going to get up. It was a no-doubter he wasn’t going to get up. It was down near the goal line. We were ahead, I think,14-7, and Darryl Dickey went in (at quarterback). Alabama missed a field goal at the end.”

Heath Shuler played for the Vols in the early 90s before being chosen in the first round by the Washington Redskins in 1994. His NFL career was cut short by injuries, but he returned to DC as a North Carolina congressman.

(AP Photo)

Heath Shuler (1991-93): UT’s starting quarterbacks the next six years were Jeff Francis (1986-88) and Andy Kelly (1989-91) before another true dual-threat quarterback was on the sideline.

Shuler was Kelly’s backup before taking over as the starter in 1992.

“I thought (Shuler) played well in the rain against Florida (a 31-14 UT win), managing that situation, and of course, he had the famous fourth-down pass against Georgia that got us close enough to where we could win (34-31), a pass to Ron Davis late in the game,” Mattingly says.

“He ran the option very well against Georgia. I don’t think Georgia ever really stopped him. We never stopped (Georgia quarterback) Eric Zeier passing. I’m not sure Georgia ever stopped Heath Shuler running.”

Shuler, at 6-2, 216 pounds, went on to play five seasons in the NFL.

“I remember Shuler being more like Cockrell than anybody,” Mattingly adds. “He could beat you with his arm and his feet, but he was really dangerous if he got to the edge.”

Tee Martin (1996-99): Martin was the backup for two years to Peyton Manning – UT’s starter from 1994-97 – before assuming the role at the start of the ’98 national championship season.

Martin’s 79-yard touchdown pass to Peerless Price in UT’S 23-16 victory over Florida State was the longest play in Fiesta Bowl history and one of the most memorable plays ever for UT.

“If you look at the play where he threw the bomb to Peerless Price, (Martin) slips ever so slightly before he throws the ball,” Mattingly says, “but he had the presence of mind to re-set himself to throw a perfect pass to Peerless for the touchdown, but there’s just this ever so slight slip before he threw the touchdown.”

Martin’s 23 consecutive completions against South Carolina in 1998 is a single-game record.

“Tee was a lot like Heath and Cockrell,” Mattingly notes. “He was a big guy (6-2, 225 pounds), but he could throw it, once they found his niche in the offense.”

Key matchups
Dobbs vs. Vanderbilt ‘D’: Dobbs was sacked six times by Missouri and had 13 net rushing yards (he gained 50) as the UT rushing game stalled for 53 net yards.

It was a stark contrast to the previous two games in which UT rolled up 95 points and 1,156 total yards against Kentucky and South Carolina. And Dobbs had rushed for 289 yards since entering against Alabama on Oct. 25.

Dobbs still threw for 195 yards on 24-of-37 passing against Missouri, and he won’t face near the pressure against Vanderbilt, which ranks last in the SEC in scoring defense (34.1 ppg).

“They were a good defense,” Dobbs said after the Missouri game. “We definitely made some mistakes out there that we have to clean up. We knew coming into the game what was in front of us. We have to fix the things that we messed up on and get ready for Vanderbilt. Our dreams, goals, and aspirations are still in front of us. So we’ve got to get to win [number] six and get to a bowl game.”

The Commodores are 11th in the league in rushing and passing defense, and are coming off a 51-0 loss at Mississippi State.

Jones vs. Mason: UT coach Butch Jones won’t have any problem getting the Vols ready for this one with a bowl game at stake, and Vanderbilt no longer rides the confidence it had under former coach James Franklin, now at Penn State.

First-year coach Derek Mason hasn’t gotten it done yet at Vanderbilt

It’s still a big game for the Commodores – and an even bigger one for the Vols this year. UT has lost the last two in the series – in 2012 under Derek Dooley and last year under Jones.

“It’s a one-game season,” Jones says. “It’s all you can [say.] We get another chance to play in state. … Now we have to go on the road. First and foremost, you can’t turn the football over. You can’t have untimely penalties. You have to get off the field on third downs. Stuff that we preach all the time in our football program.”

UT O-line vs. Vandy front: The Vols’ offensive line made strides against South Carolina and Kentucky. Not so against a stout Missouri defense led by end Markus Golden (2.5 sacks for minus-14 yards).

The Vols’ front can’t take a break against Vanderbilt, but it probably won’t take the beating it took last Saturday, either.

Missouri leads the SEC in sacks with 40, while Vanderbilt is tied for 12th with 17.

Notable notes
Just Short: UT came up shy of averaging 100,000 fans for seven home games when 95,821 showed up for the Missouri game, the second-lowest attendance of the year at Neyland Stadium behind the Chattanooga game (93,097 on Oct. 11).

UT averaged more than 100,000 fans each year from 1996-2008 but has not reached that number since.

Still, Jones thanked UT fans for their support during “The Butch Jones Show” on Sunday.

“I just want to say thank you to Vol Nation and for their loyal, loyal support,” he said. “You look at our attendance, 99,753 (average), we’re up over 10,000 fans the last two years, and when most schools are on the decline, we’re ascending, and that’s a tribute to them, and we need to see everyone, all of Vol nation in Nashville as we take on a Vanderbilt team and look to get win No. 6.”

Record Freshmen: UT started seven true freshmen against Missouri, a record for the program.

Freshman Jacob Johnson got the start at linebacker for All-SEC senior A.J. Johnson, who was suspended Nov. 17 due to a rape investigation.

“We started seven true freshmen, four on defense, and even though they’re true freshmen, the standard and expectation which we expect here at Tennessee doesn’t change,” Jones says, “and I thought they did a great job with that and continuing to move forward, and we’ll benefit for many years to come with these live-game opportunities.”

Prove ’Em Wrong? Jones said the Vols have proven some prognosticators wrong – regardless of what happens against Vanderbilt.

“It’s very important, and it’s the last game, and we’re working to get to postseason play, but right, wrong, or indifferent, we have taken tremendous, tremendous, tremendous strides this year,” Jones explains. “You look at all the so-called experts, we weren’t even supposed to be in this situation when the season started, and we’re still playing a meaningful game at the last game of the year.”

Dave Link is a freelance journalist living in Knoxville.

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