Tennessee quarterback Josh Dobbs (11) and defensive end Derek Barnett (9) cheer after leading the band at the close of their 38-24 Music City Bowl victory Friday against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Nissan Stadium in Nashville.

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Josh Dobbs delivers gem in Vols' finale

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NASHVILLE — There was no other way it could end for Josh Dobbs.

His final game as Tennessee's quarterback simply had to be another gem filled with highlight-reel plays.

Dobbs powered Tennessee to a third consecutive bowl win with 409 yards and four touchdowns as the Vols beat Nebraska 38-24 in the Music City Bowl in front of a sellout crowd of 68,496 at Nissan Stadium on Friday.

"It wouldn't have been Dobbs if he didn't go out like that," senior tight end Jason Croom said. "I'm real happy for him. You just see he helped change this program around."

Now the program will move on without him, though Dobbs lingered on the field following the postgame trophy presentation clutching his MVP award and the game ball and soaking in every moment as fans serenaded him.

He showed up to his postgame news conference still in uniform, as if he wasn't ready to accept that his career had concluded.

"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 during my time 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 in the NFL, whether it's off the field in whatever I do.

"I'm thankful for all the wonderful moments I've been able to share at the University of Tennessee. I'm thankful for the opportunity to wear the 'T' on my chest and on my helmet, and it's been a heck of a ride. I love the guys to the left and right and wouldn't go to war with anyone else."

Dobbs turned in a vintage performance Friday, often turning seemingly nothing into something with his scrambling and showing off his improved downfield passing, particularly on a 59-yard touchdown pass to Josh Malone midway through the fourth quarter after the Cornhuskers pulled to with 31-24 with 10 minutes to go.

"I knew he was going to play one of his best games," Vols coach Butch Jones said. "I worried he was too amped up before the game, and I told him you've got four quarters of football, don't win in the first quarter and take what they give you. Like I said, the model of a great person is a model of consistency. Joshua Dobbs exemplifies consistency every day.

"I don't know if people truly understand — 16 (Peyton Manning) understands, he was in our locker room before the game — the amount of scrutiny. Playing quarterback at the University of Tennessee's a global position. You're in the spotlight every single day. There is no off day when you're the quarterback at Tennessee.

"The way Josh Dobbs handles his business, from academics to in the community and the giving of his time to his leadership in our football program to everything, he just is a model of consistency. I'm very, very grateful to him and to his mother and father that we had the opportunity to coach him."

Dobbs completed 23 of 38 passes for 291 yards and one touchdown and ran 11 times for 118 yards and three scores.

"It's Dobbs," Croom said. "He's competitive. He's going do whatever he needs to do to win. His energy and his competitiveness, it's a domino effect. Everyone has that same competitiveness, because he's our leader.

"We don't want to let him down."

On one second-quarter touchdown drive, when the Huskers gobbled up a third-down screen play, Dobbs rolled right, pump-faked a defender and sprinted for the first down. Two of his three touchdown runs were scrambles where he simply took off when no one was open.

"It's a little bit unpredictable for us at times," guard Jashon Robertson said, "but it's unpredictable for them, too. He's made a lot of plays throughout his career and he made a lot of plays today."

How the Vols fill the vast void Dobbs leaves is the program's biggest question heading into 2017.

"I feel like the future's very bright," Dobbs said.

"Us seniors and upperclassmen, since the underclassmen have gotten on campus we've instilled in them our drive, our hard work, our work ethic. We know what it's like to go 5-7 and not go to a bowl game and be in there immediately after the last game doing workouts and just wanting to go home.

"We've felt that, and we've instilled that in them so they understand what to do, how to take the reins, how to work hard, how to continue to grow, how to approach each practice as if it's a game and make the most of each rep.

"I'm definitely excited to see what the future holds for the University of Tennessee football program."

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