Not one Tennessee quarterback emerged as the starter at Saturday's Orange and White Game, but the Vols still indicated 2014 should feature a much-improved aerial attack.
Justin Worley, Nathan Peterman, Joshua Dobbs and Riley Ferguson combined for 514 passing yards and six passing touchdowns in the convincing White (offense) win over the Orange (defense) that featured splash play after splash play.
If there was one standout, though, it was Dobbs.
The rising sophomore, who started four games in 2013, was on point. He hit 6-of-9 targets for 199 yards and three touchdowns.
His first four drives ended with TDs, including a 59-yard scramble into the checkerboards and a 79-yard strike to emerging freshman wideout Josh Malone.
"I take pride in myself," Dobbs said. "I am always a confident individual. This was a good day of taking steps forward. (I) just have to continue to build on it."
Even though he was happy with his performance, the always-humble Dobbs made sure his unit as a whole was receiving the spotlight and not just him.
"I feel like I had a productive day, but I feel as a unit we had a really productive day," Dobbs said. "We did an excellent job of executing plays, focusing on fundamentals, executing plays coach (Mike) Bajakian was calling and moving the ball."
Dobbs was right — it wasn't just him excelling under center. Worley led three touchdown drives, completing an efficient 11-of-13 attempts for 151 yards and hitting sophomore receiver Marquez North on a crisp long ball for a 50-yard touchdown.
Peterman finished 8-for-11 with 81 yards, and Ferguson went 7-for-12 for 83 yards. Both tossed a touchdown pass on the afternoon.
Big passing-game plays were a rarity in 2013, making head coach Butch Jones relieved to see some major improvement.
"Night and day (from) where we were at," Jones said of his quarterback situation. "I thought our quarterbacks were aggressive. They were decisive, and they were confident in what they were seeing and that was great today."
No change at the top
Jones makes it a point to emphasize that his staff evaluates their quarterbacks in every setting, and there's no doubt that they gained plenty of valuable reps and tape film on Saturday.
But when asked if anything had changed in the four-headed battle at quarterback between Worley, Peterman, Dobbs and Ferguson, Jones was quick to claim he still needs to see more from his QBs.
"Ongoing, no time table," Jones said of the quarterback battle. "We have to take tremendous strides. We turned the football over from the quarterback position today. You can't do that and play winning football.
"But I'm very encouraged by where that position is in our program."
Every one of Tennessee's quarterbacks seemed to have considerable success offensively in generating drives and scores in the first half — except Ferguson.
The redshirt freshmen's first two drives were short three-and-outs. On his third drive, he was strip-sacked from behind by Devaun Swafford. He was sacked two more times before eventually getting his unit into the end zone on his fifth drive, and capped off his performance with an interception in the closing moments.
Many of Ferguson's struggles, especially the pressure, came by way of his offensive linemen and receivers failing to make plays. Jones even pointed toward that after the game, saying "a lot goes into sacks."
But the second-year coach was still quick to note how Ferguson — one of the biggest head-turners from spring practice and a threat to start come the Utah State season opener — needs to improve his decision-making and avoid bad turnovers.
"I thought Riley did some good things," Jones said. "But he's going through the maturation phase. With the interception at the end of the game, he had the flat route wide open. He tried to get a bigger yardage gain on the out.
"As a quarterback, you never pass up a completion for a better completion. That's a process that young quarterbacks go through. The other one where he fumbled the ball, he was hit from the backside. It's the guy you never see that causes the fumble. Those are all things we can correct from Riley."
Added Ferguson: "It was OK. There were things that I could have done better. I will just have to go back and watch the film to correct my mistakes."