KNOXVILLE — Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs posted one of the more unusual statistical lines in the first half of the Volunteers' game against Vanderbilt on Saturday night.
In his third start, the freshman was intercepted on two of the seven passes he threw before halftime and had a paltry 5 yards passing for the half.
The Commodores converted Dobbs' first mistake into a touchdown. As he was flushed out of the pocket to his right, Dobbs forced a throw intended for Johnathon Johnson. His second pickoff was a late throw down the field, where Paris Head jumped in front of 6-foot-5, 220-pound Jason Croom.
"We started off slow," Dobbs said after finishing 11-0f-19 passing for 53 yards and running 11 times for 23 yards, though that number was lowered by a couple of sacks. "I felt like after the first quarter, though, we found our rhythm and were able to really move the ball on the ground and own the line of scrimmage."
Tennessee forced a fumble on the ensuing Vanderbilt possession to minimize the damage.
The 6-3, 193-pound Dobbs, who threw four interceptions in his first two starts against Missouri and Auburn, made some plays with his legs. His 11-yard run to end the first quarter set up Rajion Neal's touchdown run. Dobbs also scrambled for a first down on third down on Tennessee's opening drive of the second half, which ended in a field goal.
Dobbs ended the third quarter with more yards rushing (32) than passing (25.)
Matthews sets mark
Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews ascended to the top of the SEC charts again Saturday night.
With a 4-yard catch on a bubble screen in the second quarter, the senior set the league's all-time career receptions mark, surpassing former Vandy and current Chicago Bears wideout Earl Bennett, who caught 236 passes from 2005 to '07. Matthews broke the SEC's career yardage mark in Vanderbilt's loss at Texas A&M last month.
A focal point of Tennessee's defensive game plan, Matthews caught six passes for 58 yards in the first half, but on his longest catch, Vols safety Brian Randolph hit him on a 24-yard catch on third down and linebacker Dontavis Sapp recovered the resulting fumble at Tennessee's 1-yard line.
Matthews finished with 133 yards on 13 catches, none more important than the 25-yard grab along the sideline on Vanderbilt's winning drive.
Tennessee receiver Marquez North left the game after he was tackled on a first-quarter reception and did not return. After briefly heading to the locker room, the freshman, one of the Vols' top receivers, returned to the sideline and had his right ankle retaped. He paced the sideline for the rest of the first half.
The Vols also were without freshman tight end A.J. Branisel, who was on crutches with a knee injury suffered this past week in practice, and receiver Cody Blanc, who hasn't practiced since the Auburn game and also was on crutches this past week. Branisel's absence left Tennessee with two healthy scholarship tight ends, and walk-on Joe Stocstill was the Vols' No. 2 at the position.
Tennessee freshman quarterback Riley Ferguson, who still can redshirt this season, went through pregame warmups with a black sleeve on his right calf.
Vanderbilt played without defensive end Caleb Azubike, who made the trip to Knoxville but was on crutches, and Andrew Jelks, the Commodores' starting right tackle who chose Vanderbilt over Tennessee two years ago, was shaken up during the second quarter.
The Commodores also lost secondary starters Andre Hal in the first half and Steven Clarke in the third quarter, and safety Kenny Ladler was ejected for targeting when he popped Croom with a helmet-to-helmet hit over the middle.
Saturday night's announced crowd of 97,223 brought Tennessee's season attendance to 669,087. For a seven-game home schedule, the average attendance is 95,584. In 2012, Tennessee posted an average attendance of 89,965, which was the program's lowest and first season under 90,000 since 1979.
The Vols entered Saturday ranked sixth nationally and second in the SEC in attendance. Only Michigan, Ohio State, Alabama, Texas and Penn State averaged more fans per home game than Tennessee through the season's first 12 weeks.
Tennessee entered Saturday just 43rd nationally in percentage capacity and will finish with its season attendance accounting for 93.3 percent of the 102,455-seat Neyland Stadium's listed capacity.
Tennessee's captains for the game were four seniors playing their final home games: right tackle Ja'Wuan James, right guard Zach Fulton, linebacker Sapp and defensive end Marlon Walls, who started instead of Corey Miller. ... Brighton (Tenn.) High School defensive lineman Charles Mosley, a four-star prospect whose other final is Alabama, was one of the Vols' official visitors for Saturday's game.
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...