KNOXVILLE - It was only eight quarters and a couple of weeks ago that Tennessee's football offense was stuck in neutral.
Now the Volunteers are feeling they can score as many points as they need.
Rejuvenated by a change at quarterback, Tennessee's offense enters Saturday's game against Kentucky brimming with confidence after its performances against Alabama and South Carolina, but the Vols must keep that momentum going to achieve the strong finish they want in the season's final three games.
"We know we're always judged by our last snap," offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian said after Wednesday's practice. "We've talked snap-and-clear as part of our mentality, as part of our DNA, since day one, and it works both ways.
"Obviously when you have a bad play, you need to clear that out of your mind and move on to the next play, and when you have a good play, you need to do the same thing.
"You can never get too comfortable, and you always have to focus on the fact that you need to improve. Our guys are aware, yes, we've had some success this past week, but we can't let our guard down. We need to keep pressing and we need to keep improving day to day."
After scoring 32 points at Georgia in late September, Tennessee went without an offensive touchdown in a 10-9 loss to Florida and a 34-3 loss at Ole Miss, and the Vols snapped that skid in the second quarter against the Crimson Tide after inserting Josh Dobbs at quarterback.
In that seven-quarter span, the Vols piled up 928 yards and scored 65 points, most of it against South Carolina's SEC-worst defense.
In eight quarters against the Gators and Rebels, Tennessee gained 424 yards and scored 12 points.
"With Dobbs at quarterback, it opens our offense up," right tackle Jacob Gilliam said. "We can do a lot of things off of what he does. He has great ability back there, whether it's throwing or running, and he can really changes offenses. He's a really dynamic player, whether it's handing the ball off, throwing it or running it himself.
"He really gives you that third option where if you need it, he can get it for you, and that's really what's opened up everything for Coach Jake, (who's) done a great job putting us in the right situations, the right blocks, the right routes. Everything that's he done with the offense right now is just meshing well with the players he's got in there."
Since taking over, Dobbs has committed three turnovers, and he'll have to be careful against a Kentucky defense that, while giving up plenty of yards and points during a four-game losing streak, ranks 11th nationally in interceptions (13) and 14th nationally in turnover margin (plus-8).
While Dobbs has injected life into Tennessee's offense, it's a collective effort aiding the Vols' revival.
Tailback Jalen Hurd has 184 rushing yards in his last two games, and the wide receivers and offensive line are playing better, too.
"It's the offense as a whole," offensive line coach Don Mahoney said. "Our receivers have done a tremendous job blocking on the perimeter. We've improved in certain areas of things that we've needed to do.
"With the running backs and with Josh running the ball, (we've) been able to get his run reads and their run reads more consistent in allowing us to have the success we've had.
"It's been across the board. It's not one individual. It's not one individual position. It's collectively us doing a better job and really feeding off of it."
No unit has fed off the recent success more than the Vols' maligned offensive line. In the first seven games of the season, the Vols allowed 30 sacks and averaged a paltry 94 rushing yards per game. It was evident the unit was down on itself.
"If you keep coming in every day and (hearing), 'You're terrible, you're terrible, you're terrible, you're terrible,' and you're not getting any of the results you want, the guys were really having a tough time of getting over that hump," Mahoney said.
"We've broke the ice, so to speak, a little bit a couple of weeks ago having some success. Now we're working to build on it where guys are more excited to keep getting better at it."
Success can breed confidence, which can lead to more success, and left tackle Kyler Kerbyson said that's what happened in Columbia, S.C., two weeks ago.
"After that first half when we scored with barely any time left going into half, our confidence went out the roof," he said, "to where when it came down to it at the end of the game, we knew, 'Hey, we've done this before. We're all right. Let's just go out there and do what we're supposed to do.' All that just comes together and helps our confidence."
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