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Tennessee’s offense is healthier and all sorts of dangerous

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If Missouri is going to pull an upset in Knoxville, it will probably be in a shootout.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Tennessee has had a really weird season in 2016. The Vols began the season with ridiculous, absurd fumbles luck, without which they might have lost to Appalachian State, Ohio, and maybe Virginia Tech, Florida, or Georgia. That has since rectified itself (as it always does).

Meanwhile, the Vols got wrecked by injuries. A lot of the wreckage came on defense, but it also briefly nuked the running back position as well. It has also since been rectified, at least to a degree.

Butch Jones’ Vols were healthier than they’ve been in a while last week against Kentucky, and they put together their best offensive performance since the second half of the Florida game. They allowed a ton of yards to the Wildcats, but they also averaged a ridiculous 10.2 yards per play in a 49-36 win.

There’s a chance Missouri figures out some ways to move the ball on Tennessee. But the Tigers will have to figure out how to keep the Vols from rolling up and down the field. Easier said than done, if last week is any indication.

QB

  • Joshua Dobbs (6’3, 210, Sr.) — 156-for-263 (59%), 2,092 yards, 21 TD, 12 INT, 21 sacks (6.6 yards per pass attempt); 96 carries, 674 yards (7.0), 7 TD
  • Quinten Dormady (6’4, 216, So.) — 11-for-17 (65%), 148 yards (8.7); 1 carry, 3 yards

Josh Dobbs has been called overrated by opposing fans that he’s almost become underrated.

Make no mistake: He’s going to fumble too much (eight so far this year), take too many sacks (7.4 percent sack rate), and throw two ridiculous, boneheaded passes per game. The (annual) preseason hype was too lofty.

At the same time, though, Dobbs is also wonderfully mobile, and he’s established a solid rapport with his top two targets this year. Not including sacks, he’s carrying about 10 times per game for 65-70 yards, and he saved his biggest rushing games for key moments: 12 carries for 116 yards against Virginia Tech, 16 for 88 against Florida, 12 for 181 against Kentucky. Because of him, the Vols are still East contenders. (Meanwhile, his costly, ill-timed picks played a big role in Tennessee losing to both Texas A&M and South Carolina.)

Dobbs forces you to be disciplined. You can’t over-pursue when rushing the passer

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Tennessee
Joshua Dobbs
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

RB

  • Alvin Kamara (5’10, 215, Jr.) — 74 carries, 441 yards (6.0), 5 TD; 31 targets, 22 catches, 260 yards (8.4), 3 TD
  • John Kelly (5’9, 212, So.) — 56 carries, 407 yards (7.3), 3 TD; 7 targets, 5 catches, 50 yards (7.1)
  • Carlin Fils-Aime (5’11, 175, Fr.) — 12 carries, 46 yards (3.8), 2 TD

Alvin Kamara originally signed with Alabama before taking a JUCO detour and ending up at Tennessee. He was second fiddle to Jalen Hurd in 2015 and struggled early this year in a secondary role. But when Hurd got hurt (and eventually announced he was transferring), Kamara exploded. He rushed 18 times for 127 yards and caught eight passes for 161 yards ... and then got hurt. He missed two games, then returned to carry 10 times for 128 yards against Kentucky.

Kamara and sophomore John Kelly both seem to complement Dobbs pretty well. Dobbs’ deception and run threat renders defenses a bit flat-footed, and Kamara/Kelly are fast enough to make defenses pay. In Kamara’s absence, Kelly rushed 21 times for 198 yards against South Carolina and Tennessee Tech. He went for 16 and 94 against Kentucky.

This is the 1-2 punch that Hurd-Kamara was supposed to be and it has made Tennessee’s defense very dangerous over the last couple of games.

NCAA Football: Tennessee Tech at Tennessee
John Kelly
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

WR

  • Josh Malone (6’3, 200, Jr.) — 55 targets, 35 catches, 648 yards (11.8), 8 TD
  • Marquez Callaway (6’2, 190, Fr.) — 3 targets, 1 catch, 13 yards

WR

  • Jauan Jennings (6’3, 205, So.) — 42 targets, 26 catches, 379 yards (9.0), 5 TD
  • Brandon Johnson (6’2, 180, Fr.) — 8 targets, 6 catches, 71 yards (8.9) OR
  • Jeff George (6’6, 195, Jr.) — 3 targets, 1 catch, 20 yards (6.7)

WR

  • Josh Smith (6’1, 213, Jr.) — 26 targets, 11 catches, 84 yards (3.2), 1 TD
  • Tyler Byrd (6’0, 195, Fr.) — 21 targets, 13 catches, 201 yards (9.6)

TE

  • Ethan Wolf (6’6, 245, Jr.) — 23 targets, 15 catches, 180 yards (7.8), 2 TD
  • Jason Croom (6’5, 246, Sr.) — 19 targets, 11 catches, 148 yards (7.8)

With the run game finally clicking in a way that it wasn’t earlier in the year, Josh Malone has taken off. He has nine catches for 204 yards and three touchdowns in the last two weeks, while Tyler Byrd has provided another big-play threat with three catches for 81 yards.

In terms of technique, hands, and apparent physical prowess, Jauan Jennings always seems like he should be producing more than he is. He caught the game-winning Hail Mary against Georgia and broke the Florida game open with a long touchdown, he still only averages about 38 receiving yards per game. In a three-week span (Florida, UGA, A&M), he caught 11 passes for 250 yards. In the four games since: 9 catches, 98 yards.

NCAA Football: Florida at Tennessee
Josh Malone
Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

LT

  • Brett Kendrick (6’6, 318, Jr.) — 10 starts in 2016, 17 career starts
  • Drew Richmond (6’5, 301, RSFr.) — 3 starts in 2016, 3 career starts

LG

  • Jashon Robertson (6’3, 305, Jr.) — 9 starts in 2016, 32 career starts
  • Venzell Boulware (6’3, 306, RSFr.) — 1 start in 2016, 1 career start

C

  • Coleman Thomas (6’5, 301, Jr.) — 6 starts in 2016, 24 career starts

RG

  • Dylan Wiesman (6’4, 310, Sr.) — 9 starts in 2016, 24 career starts — questionable with ankle injury
  • Jack Jones (6’4, 307, So.) — 6 starts in 2016, 7 career starts

RT

  • Chance Hall (6’4, 318, So.) — 6 starts in 2016, 13 career starts — questionable with injury
  • Marcus Tatum (6’6, 265, Fr.)

The line has been constantly juggled, and that could remain the case depending on the injury status of Dylan Wiesman and Chance Hall. Nine different Vols have started up front, and while the run blocking has been mostly solid, Dobbs still holds onto the ball for a long time and forces strong pass protection ... and the line can only offer decent protection.

If Mizzou can survive the run attack and force passing downs, the Tigers’ resurgent pass rush could create some negative plays. But that’s one hell of an if.

Outback Bowl - Northwestern v Tennessee
Jashon Robertson & Dobbs
Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images