(UHND.com) — Coming off a disappointing loss to South Carolina this past weekend, major changes have been made in the Tennessee coaching staff that will leave the Vols looking for answers on offense this weekend. The Vols offense limps into this week after Offensive Coordinator Randy Sanders’ resignation and delegation of play calling duties to head coach Phil Fulmer.
The Tennessee offense has struggled to say the least this year while playing musical quarterbacks with Rick Clausen and Eric Ainge. The two fought hard for the starting quarterback position in the summer, but both have been equally ineffective. Ainge has thrown 4 interceptions to just 2 touchdowns while Clausen as 3 touchdowns to go along with his 4 interceptions.
To make matters worse for Tennessee, leading rusher Gerald Riggs is out for the year and their second leading rusher Arian Foster is banged up as well. Foster was very effective last week against South Carolina with 148 yards on 25 carries and Tennessee’s lone offensive touchdown in the game.
In their last three games, Tennessee has scored a combined 32 points albeit against some pretty good defenses. They have also scored over 20 points just twice this year, but don’t tell any of this to Charlie Weis because he will promptly point out the Vols 75-5 record in the month of November over the last 20 years as reason why Tennessee is a dangerous team.
The biggest obstacle for the Irish will be to not overlook a wounded animal such as Tennessee. With the turmoil going on in their program and the lack of production on the field this year, it would be very easy for the Irish players to overlook the underachieving Volunteers.
Weis seems to have his players focused however and very mindful of the talent that will be on the opposite side of the field come Saturday.
Offensively the Irish will need to use their short passing game as they did against BYU against the nation’s 5th ranked rush defense, a defense that has generated 21 sacks this season. With the talent Tennessee has along the defensive line, Quinn will need to get rid of the ball quickly.
If there is one thing we have learned from Weis however is that we won’t see exactly what we saw against BYU. Look for Weis to have a new gameplan ready with the two weeks he’s had to prepare that utilizes quick passes.
Defensively, the Irish will need to stop the Tennessee running game and force their struggling quarterbacks to make plays even though the weakness of the Notre Dame defense lies in the secondary. With 8 interceptions between them and a lack of a true down field passing game, the Notre Dame secondary should be able to contain the Tennessee passing attack.
The psyche of the Tennessee team will go a long way in determining the outcome of this game. How will the team react to being 3-4 and having their offensive coordinator resign? This team lost to Notre Dame last year and will also have the revenge factor going for them to make guessing what their psyche will be like nearly impossible.
Both teams have something to prove this weekend. Tennessee is looking to prove they are better than their 3-4 record while the Irish will be trying to prove they deserve to be among the nation’s elite after being ranked just 14th in the BCS rankings.
Tennessee has seen some good offenses this year, but nothing like what they will see this weekend when they travel to South Bend. The SEC is more of a defensive conference this year unlike years past. Notre Dame will be able to score on Tennessee this weekend and Weis will have his team fully prepared with an extra week.
Look for the Irish to come out of the gate chucking the ball around the field. Weis is aware Tennessee’s tough run defense and will soften them up early with the passing game and then establish the running game in the second half. On defense, the Irish will be able to keep the Tennessee offense grounded.
This will be a close game with Tennessee coming out fired up to prove they are as good as people thought they would be in front of a national audience. Notre Dame will pull away in the second half and win this one 34-17.