Ask Nebraska. The Cornhuskers had difficulty keeping up with the Tennessee Vols on both sides of the ball Friday in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.
The 9-4 Vols rang up a 38-24 win before a sellout (68,496) sun-splashed crowd at Nissan Stadium.
“There were kind of two major factors for us. We had trouble blocking their defensive front, and of course No. 9 (Vols defensive end Derek Barnett) in particular and then we gave up big plays,’’ Nebraska Coach Mike Riley said about Barnett, a Brentwood Academy graduate.
“He made all the plays he could make.’’
Barnett passed NFL Hall of Famer Reggie White, to become Tennessee’s all-time leading sack leader late in the fourth quarter, chalking up his 33rd career quarterback sack on Nebraska’s Ryker Fyfe.
“His only sack – seems like he’s back there all the time,’’ Fyfe said of Barnett. “It felt like I had a lot of hurry-ups and I always had to kind of know what he’s at on the field and which side he’s on.
“You know he’s coming late in the fourth quarter, when they know you’re going to throw, he’s just ready to tee off on you and you’re like, make sure to block him.’’
On the sack, Fyfe said he was seeing stars and thought he was concussed by the sack. “Yeah, he was in the backfield a lot,’’ Fyfe said.
It didn’t stop with the Vols’ defensive performance. Most Valuable Player of the game belonged to Vols quarterback Josh Dobbs.
Nebraska found out that a little Dobbs will do you.
Dobbs leaves the program as one of the better quarterbacks in Vols history. Former quarterback Peyton Manning was in the Vols locker room before the game. Manning had to appreciate how many winning plays Dobbs brought to this game.
Dobbs was 23-for-38 passing for 291 yards. He had no fumbles, no interceptions. He also beat the Cornhuskers with his escape-ability. Dobbs piled up 118 yards on 11 carries. Dobbs passed for a touchdown to Josh Malone. Dobbs ran for three touchdowns.
“The athleticism of the quarterback was a factor,’’ Riley noted about Dobbs. “It gave them a lot of extra opportunities.’’
The Vols showed they were a Top 25 team, but underachieved when two late season losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt prevented them from reaching their preseason predictions.
Friday the Vols wound up with 521 total yards while holding Nebraska to 318 yards. They kept the Cornhuskers off balance, not knowing where the Vols would hit their defense next.
The win gave the Vols seniors their third consecutive post-season bowl game wins, a feat that had not happened since the 1994-95-96 teams.
Going out on a high note for this season, will leave a legacy for future teams to come.
It will also encourage returning players to not only know what it takes to play like they did against Nebraska, but to be consistent and be ready to play every game.
Running back Alvin Kamara and Barnett are highly likely to leave the program. Kamara was reported after the game by 24/7 Sports and other outlets confirming that he is going to the NFL.
“It’s been a heck of a ride,’’ Dobbs said. “I’ve had my share of adversity and I’ve had my share of success at Tennessee.
“I’m honored for both because both I know, really are going to help me throughout the rest of my life, whether it’s the NFL or whether it’s off the field in whatever I do.’’
The Vols saved their best to last.
Oh, what could have been.
Joe Biddle is a WKRN.com sports columnist. He is also a member of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.