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2016 Music City Bowl: Joshua Dobbs, Derek Barnett lead Tennessee past Nebraska

By
Bucky Dent, The Sports Xchange

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- After being sacked by Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett late in the fourth quarter Friday, Nebraska quarterback Ryker Fyfe said he was seeing stars.

Barnett was perhaps the star of all stars in the Volunteers' Music City bowl win, a 38-24 decision at sold-out Nissan Stadium in which he dominated the Cornhuskers' offensive line and broke Reggie White's school record for most sacks in a career.

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The 6-foot-3, 265-pound Barnett, a junior who will likely declare for the NFL Draft, delivered a performance worthy of Sundays. Barnett finished with six tackles, four quarterback hurries, a pair of pass breakups and his 33rd career sack that ended Fyfe's day with a possible concussion.

Following the sack, Tennessee coach Butch Jones called a timeout and almost every player mobbed Barnett to celebrate his feat.

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"Best defensive player in the country," Jones said of Barnett. "Comes out here and works his craft every day. I think it shows you the respect this team has for Derek Barnett. We had to take that timeout or get a 15-yard penalty. Everyone wanted to celebrate."

Barnett whizzed around overmatched tackles all game, flushing Fyfe out of the pocket on multiple occasions and forcing him into a 17-for-36, 243-yard game in relief of injured starter Tommy Armstrong Jr.

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"Just one sack? Seemed like he was back there all the time," Fyfe said of Barnett. "He talked a lot of trash out there, but yeah, he's a good player. He kind of disrupts your timing with receivers and stuff. I always had to know where he was at on the field."

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While Barnett led the defense, game Most Valuable Player Joshua Dobbs paced the Tennessee offense. Dobbs completed 23 of 38 passes for 291 yards and a touchdown -- a 59-yard strike to Josh Malone with 8:45 left that restored a two-score lead -- and rushed for 118 yards on 11 carries with three scores.

It was an emphatic farewell for Dobbs, a senior who directed the Volunteers (9-4) to three straight bowl wins over Big Ten opponents, all by at least 14 points.

"The athleticism of the quarterback was a factor," Nebraska coach Mike Riley said. "He did a nice job of throwing a lot of balls right on time, but when it wasn't there, he bought time where he moved around and ran."

After a scoreless first quarter, Tennessee exploded with 21 second-quarter points. John Kelly ripped off a 28-yard run to break the scoring seal less than two minutes into the period, followed by a 10-yard run by Dobbs.

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Fyfe found Brandon Reilly with a 38-yard touchdown pass with 1:36 left in the half, but Dobbs directed a classic two-minute drive, going 75 yards in nine plays and finishing the drive with a 2-yard run nine seconds before halftime.

Aaron Medley's 46-yard field goal with 5:52 left in the third quarter upped the Volunteers' lead to 24-7, but the Cornhuskers (9-4) crawled back into contention by scoring on three straight possessions.

Fyfe and Reilly hooked up on a 9-yard scoring strike with 3:26 remaining in the third. After Dobbs' 3-yard touchdown run on the fourth quarter's second play, Drew Brown converted a 45-yard field goal with 12:06 remaining.

Nebraska got a big break when Tyler Byrd fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Mohamed Barry recovered at the Tennessee 31. Fyfe cashed it in five plays later, going 9 yards on a read-option with 10:02 left to pull the Cornhuskers within 31-24.

However, Dobbs cut off the comeback by scrambling for a first down and then connecting with Malone for the clinching score. The game's remainder was one big pep rally for the crowd of 68,496, most clad in orange, and a celebration of a season that fell short of high expectations but finished with a positive note.

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It ended with Barnett finally getting the sack he needed to push a legend out of the record books.

"You keep playing hard, the football gods will reward you," Barnett said.

NOTES: Nebraska RB Terrell Newby, who rushed for a team-high 864 yards this year, left in the first half with an undisclosed injury and didn't return. Prior to the injury, Newby gained just 15 yards on nine carries. ... Tennessee's Josh Dobbs became the third QB in SEC history with 15-plus passing TDs and 10-plus rushing TDs in consecutive years, joining Tim Tebow and Dak Prescott. ... This is the third time the programs have played -- all in bowl games. The Cornhuskers won the first two.

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