KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — For a guy constantly described as calm and level-headed, Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs sure has a sense of drama.
His 43-yard Hail Mary pass to Jauan Jennings on the final play of a 34-31 victory at Georgia last week was simply his latest stirring comeback.
His poise has allowed No. 9 Tennessee to rally from double-digit deficits in four of its first five games. Tennessee (5-0, 2-0 SEC) is off to its fastest start since its 1998 national championship season heading into Saturday’s game at No. 8 Texas A&M (5-0, 3-0).
“He’s a great leader,” Tennessee guard Jack Jones said. “(Dobbs) having that calm, cool, collected mentality, if we didn’t have that, we might be in a different position right now.”
Dobbs credits his father, Robert Dobbs, with teaching him about composure.
“I remember back in middle school, I used to be pretty emotional, going with the highs and lows of the game,” Dobbs said. “As a quarterback, (my father) taught me and I personally feel like you have to be just calm, cool and collected. You can’t get too high, too low. Each play has a life of its own, so you can’t let past plays affect your future play. That’s when you get into trouble.”
Tennessee coach Butch Jones marvels at Dobbs’ ability to respond to harsh circumstances. He cracks that the only person who can rattle the quarterback is his mother, Stephanie Dobbs.
“He’s one of those individuals that if something negative happens, he’s always thinking, ‘OK, this is the positive that can come out of it. These are the positive returns,'” Jones said. “He doesn’t let one bad play beat him. He’s able to have a snap-and-clear mentality, and to me that defines what mental toughness is.”
Dobbs’ statistics don’t necessarily reflect his consistent approach. He has been much more effective later in games.
In the first half of games this season, Dobbs has completed 52.7 percent of his passes for 404 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. He averages 3.1 yards per carry in the first half.
After halftime, Dobbs has completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 631 yards with 10 touchdowns and three interceptions. He has averaged 4.9 yards per carry in the second half and overtime.
His second-half surges have sparked Tennessee.
The Vols trailed 13-3 at halftime of a 20-13 overtime victory over Appalachian State and erased an early 14-0 deficit in a 45-24 triumph over Virginia Tech. In its two SEC games, Tennessee rallied from a 21-0 hole to beat Florida 38-28 and trailed 17-0 early against Georgia.
“This is a team that on paper, if you don’t watch it, you say, ‘Well, they’ve gotten lucky,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “No, they haven’t gotten lucky. They’ve got a veteran quarterback that is No. 1 in this league for points responsible for. Let’s start there.
“Whether he’s throwing it, whether he’s running it, whatever he’s doing, he’s the No. 1 guy that’s creating points in this league. That gives you a chance, number one, to have those types of games and to win every game.”
Tennessee may not be able to afford a slow start this week. Texas A&M is a seven-point favorite Saturday, the first time this season the Volunteers have been underdogs.
As much as he’s enjoyed these frantic finishes, Dobbs would prefer the game to proceed otherwise.
“It gives you confidence, but it also raises the question of, ‘If you can do it when you’re down 14 why can’t you just do it from the beginning of the game?’ ” he said. “It might change the whole outcome and complexion of the game. That’s what we’re trying to get across, and that’s what we’re trying to understand.
“We need to come out stronger in the first half and not make uncharacteristic mistakes in the first half that put us in large deficits we have to fight out of.”
Online: The AP’s college football page: http://collegfootball.ap.org