COLUMBIA, Mo. – Though not bashful about the disappointment of a 31-3 loss at Missouri on Saturday, UT head coach Butch Jones reminded everyone after the game what the Vols (4-5, 1-4 SEC) still have to play for.
"Moving forward, our goal is still in place of a bowl game and the only thing you can do is go back and get better," Jones said
UT needs wins in two of its final three contests to become bowl eligible for the first time since the 2011 season.
With quarterback Justin Worley nursing an injured hand, it could be Joshua Dobbs under center as the Vols strive for that goal. The true freshman started his first career game against the Tigers on Saturday.
Worley and fellow injured quarterback Nathan Peterman did not travel to Missouri.
Saturday's backup, true freshman Riley Ferguson, is presumably a player Jones would prefer to redshirt, and the only other quarterback dressed for the game was walk-on junior Tyler Page.
Though Dobbs turned the ball over three times against Missouri, Jones expressed approval with the progression of his young signal caller.
"I think he's going to do nothing but get better and better," Jones said. "I was extremely encouraged by what I saw in him."
Dobbs finished 26-of-42 for 240 yards passing while also running for 45 yards to lead the Vols in that category.
But a pair of second-quarter turnovers crippled UT's chances. First, Missouri's E.J. Gaines picked Dobbs off to set up a Missouri score on the next play to make the score 17-0.
Afterwards, with the score 24-3, Dobbs led UT into Missouri territory on three consecutive completions for a chance to pick up some potentially crucial points before the half, only to fumble on a quarterback keeper.
However, UT's offensive line, which was penalized six times on the night, grabbed some of the blame after the game for the miscues.
"We talked to him in the locker room, and those turnovers he had, we put those on us as an offensive line," offensive tackle Ja'Wuan James said. "He was scrambling out of the pocket and running around, so we've got to do a better job of having his back."
Jones harped on how the SEC is "a line of scrimmage league" after the game and did say that the cadence of a new quarterback may have thrown the offensive line off.
But from a heralded group comprised of four seniors and a junior, UT's first-year coach admitted he wants to see more down the stretch.
"The thing that I'm most disappointed in is the line of scrimmage game," Jones said. "We have some individuals here that have played a lot of football and we take pride in being a physical football team and we weren't that tonight. We'll go back to rolling our sleeves up and correcting that."
Tennessee hosts No. 7 Auburn (8-1, 4-1 SEC) for noon kick off Saturday at Neyland Stadium for homecoming.
The Tigers present a challenge for the Vols with another mobile quarterback like Missouri's Maty Mauk. But from the Vols' offensive side, James is not worried about moving forward with Dobbs at the helm.
"He showed a lot and he showed a lot of confidence," James said. "I feel like he did well and we're going to need him, because our ultimate goal is a bowl game and we've got three opportunities left to get two (wins) so we've got to go out here and focus on these games."