By Zach Stipe, Director of Football Communications
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The last time the Tennessee football team played in Jacksonville, sophomore quarterback Joshua Dobbs was the star, accounting for three total touchdowns in a 45-28 victory over Iowa in the 2015 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl.
Five years later, the Volunteers will return to TIAA Bank Field and face another Big Ten team, Indiana, in the 2020 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on Jan. 2.
Dobbs will be back, too.
The Tennessee graduate (‘17) is in his third year in the NFL. He plays for the Jacksonville Jaguars following two seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I’m not sure what I’m doing for New Year’s yet, but on January 2nd, I will be in Jacksonville to support the team and see them play,” Dobbs said. “I’m excited about it. I knew right when it got announced I’d make sure to be in Jacksonville.”
The Jaguars play their final game of the season on Dec. 29, and their home field, TIAA Bank Field, also hosts the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl.
The 2015 Gator Bowl served as a jumping off point for Dobbs. After starting the 2014 season as the third-string quarterback, Dobbs won the starting job at the midway point of the season and finished 4-1 as a starter, including his MVP performance in Jacksonville.
Dobbs completed his first seven passes against Iowa, leading the Vols to touchdowns on their first four drives to jump out to a 28-0 lead on the Hawkeyes. He finished 16-of-21 for 129 yards and one passing touchdown to go along with 76 rushing yards and two more scores on the ground.
“To get the chance to go to Jacksonville, the bowl experience was amazing,” Dobbs said. “When I look back at it, it helped in my development as a young player to be able to get a chance to ball with my teammates, to get extra reps in the offense, and to continue to grow as a player and those extra opportunities to grow and grind and just be around the guys. Bowl season definitely helped me and my progression as a QB.”
Following his Gator Bowl, Dobbs would go onto to start the next 26 games, leading Tennessee to back-to-back nine-win seasons and two more bowl wins. He wrapped up his career second in UT history behind only Peyton Manning in total offense with 9,936 yards. He ranks fifth in school history in passing yards (7,138), touchdown passes (53) and wins by a starting quarterback (23). His 2,160 yards and 32 touchdowns on the ground are the most-ever by a Vols’ signal-caller. Oh, and he managed to find the time to graduate with a degree in aerospace engineering, as well.
“It was an unreal four years of my life,” the Alpharetta, Ga., native said. “I miss it every day, but I’m thankful I had those four years and they really helped propel me for my life after college, my NFL life, and all my endeavors off the field.”
Dobbs was selected in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft and played in five games with the Steelers before he was traded to the Jaguars right before the 2019 season.
He has followed the Vols closely this season and likes the direction they are headed under head coach Jeremy Pruitt. He still talks to several former teammates and is excited to watch his buddies play in person again, including fellow quarterback, Jarrett Guarantano, and wide receiver Jauan Jennings, who was one of his favorite targets during the 2016 season. Dobbs and Jennings connected on one of the most memorable Tennessee plays of the last decade – a game-winning Hail Mary to beat Georgia in Athens in 2016.
“Obviously, I was tuned in all year,” he said. “Just to see the resolve of the team, the resiliency. We all know how this season started but to see them fight back and compete and play starting with guys like Jauan (Jennings) and Jarrett (Guartantano). Just to see that resolve of the team was amazing. I’m just excited they’re in a bowl game and excited they get a chance to play again, compete, and go out and show the nation what Tennessee is. It is going to be a fun weekend in Jacksonville.”
One of the top memories from the 2015 Gator Bowl for all of the Vols was the incredible amount of fan support. It was a virtual home game for Tennessee with tens of thousands of fans making the trek south to Jacksonville five years ago.
The Big Orange fans even created their own Vol Walk.
“We were driving up to the stadium, I don’t even think we had a Vol Walk planned then, but there were so many fans we had to get off the busses and walk to the stadium,” Dobbs said. “That’s how many people were there.”
He expects more of the same from Vol Nation on Jan. 2.
“I know it’s going to be another big turnout, it is going to be a sea of orange everywhere,” he predicted. “It was a blast to see all the fans. There’s a lot of pictures of the stadium just showing how packed it was with orange.
“Tennessee Volunteer fans are excited, the alumni are excited. I’m definitely excited. I’ve had so many friends, ex-teammates hitting me up saying ‘Hey you’re in Jacksonville can I stay with you?’ It’s going to be a really nice party in Jacksonville.”