The numbers say the Volunteer unit is one of the tops in the nation. They rank 12th defensively and only allow 86 yards per game on the ground. The Tennessee front seven has already notched 19 sacks and 30 quarterback hurries. The two defensive ends, Parys Haralson and Jason Hall, have 20 TFL’s and 10 ½ sacks between them alone. It’s an imposing defense. The one concern could be the loss of All-American defensive back Jason Allen to a season-ending hip injury. Sophomore Inquoris Johnson has been adequate in his place but only stands 5-9. Johnson will have his work cut out for him covering Notre Dame’s two 6-5 wide receivers, Maurice Stovall and Jeff Samardzija. Head coach Charlie Weis was not lying when he said the Tennessee defense would be the best the Irish will face all year long. But the best offense the Volunteers have seen is LSU’s, which is ranked 39th. Notre Dame has a top-10 offense and the battle between the units is the key match up of the game.
With Vols head coach Phil Fulmer calling the offensive plays, what is to be expected?
Weis said not to expect any radical changes from the Tennessee offense. Fulmer will be different in the pattern which he calls plays. One has to expect that if Fulmer is going to call the same order of plays as Randy Sanders, who resigned this week from his offensive coordinator and play calling duties, a change would not have been made. There will be subtle differences but not to the effect some would think. Redshirt freshman Arian Foster ran for 148 yards and a touchdown last weekend against South Carolina and expect Fulmer to use him early and often to control the clock and keep the ball away from the Notre Dame offense. The Volunteer offense has been anemic at scoring, averaging 16 points per game. With Fulmer calling the plays, can Tennessee finally find the end zone on a consistent basis? If they do, this game will come down to the fourth quarter.
This is a good challenge for the Notre Dame offense. Tennessee has a top-flight defense and the Irish players have praised them all week. Everyone is looking at this match up but it could come down to how the Volunteer offense does against the Notre Dame defense. Tennessee will try to slow the game down. Foster has to have a big game for the upset to occur. The Volunteer quarterback situation is as unclear as it was heading into the season. It appears that Erik Ainge will get the start. Can one of these guys actually play an entire game? The two-player rotation has not paid off. Tennessee has a lot of talent and potential. But Notre Dame executes on the field and the Irish offense is the best Tennessee will see in 2005. Weis’s contract extension also puts a lot of pressure on himself. The critics will be eyeing this game closely hoping Notre Dame stumbles. But Weis is at his best when the lights are shining the brightest (see three Super Bowl wins). This team, as it has been every single game, will be prepared and ready for the big test of a 3-4 team looking to salvage their season. The front seven of the Tennessee defense will force Notre Dame to pass the ball and Brady Quinn’s assault on the Irish record book propels his team to another win. Notre Dame 34 Tennessee 20.