Tennessee lacking consistency from passing attack

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee's passing attack is still searching for the right connection.

Joshua Dobbs has completed just 52.8 percent of his passes this season and was 13 of 31 last week in a 31-24 overtime loss to Oklahoma. Tennessee doesn't have any of the Southeastern Conference's top 44 players in yards receiving.

This isn't quite what the Volunteers expected from their passing attack before the season. Tennessee had one of the Southeastern Conference's top returning quarterbacks in Joshua Dobbs and brought back all seven players who caught at least 20 passes or accumulated at least 200 yards receiving for the Vols last season.

Tennessee (1-1) has a chance to sort out its passing issues Saturday against Football Championship Subdivision program Western Carolina (1-1) before opening SEC competition Sept. 26 at Florida.

''Each week is (about) going back and seeing where I can improve, what I can do to help this team get better,'' Dobbs sad. ''I have my notes, I have my things I need to improve on, and I'll continue to do that moving forward.''

Offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said Tennessee's completion rate is down because the Vols have gotten into too many third-and-long situations that lead to low-percentage passing situations. Tennessee coach Butch Jones said there's room for improvement in all aspects of the Vols' passing attack.

''It starts up front with pass protection,'' Jones said. ''It starts at the running back position as well as the tight end position, and then out on the perimeter, being able to beat man-to-man coverage and tight coverage and creating separation. Those are all things that go into being a very efficient throwing team. We had too many drops and too many drops at critical moments in the (Oklahoma) game.''

Dobbs had completions of 45 yards to Von Pearson and 30 yards to Jauan Jennings in a 59-30 season-opening victory against Bowling Green to complement a ground attack that gained 399 yards, the Vols' highest single-game rushing total since 1994.

But the passing game didn't fare nearly as well against No. 16 Oklahoma, which was ranked 19th at the time of the game. After racing to a 17-0 lead in the game's first 18 minutes, Tennessee didn't score again until overtime.

DeBord said the Vols didn't react well when the Sooners turned the second half into a ''blitzfest.''

''When a team blitzes, you have to take advantage of it,'' DeBord said. ''We didn't take advantage of it like we should have. We're working real hard this week versus that, and we're going to take advantage of it when it happens again.''

Two games into the season, Tennessee doesn't have anyone with more than five catches or 61 yards receiving.

Alton ''Pig'' Howard, who led Tennessee in catches (54) and yards receiving (618) last season, was suspended for the season opener and caught just one pass for eight yards against Oklahoma. The Vols also have missed junior receiver Jason Croom, who hasn't played yet this year as he recovers from a knee injury.

The Vols believe it's only a matter of time before their passing production improves. DeBord called Dobbs ''steady as anyone could ever be'' and added that ''I don't know how you could ever shake him.''

''He's a rock,'' DeBord said. ''That's the way he goes about his life. That's the way he goes about his football. He's out there leading right now.''

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