Irish brace for Volunteer onslaught
By KATHLEEN O'BRIEN
Assistant Sports Editor
The Irish football team is fired up as it braces for its greatest challenge of the year — upsetting the defending National Champion Tennessee Volunteers on the road.
"This game definitely has our players' attention without any doubts," Notre Dame head coach Bob Davie said. "This game, of all the teams we have played, this is the best football team we have played."
The Volunteers (6-1) are ranked fourth in the nation, with their lone loss a 23-21 defeat by the No. 5 Florida Gators.
"We would all like to think that there is some magic and that because of our tradition and because of our past and having been in big games in past years, you know, that we are capable of that," Davie said.
The Irish (5-3) come off of four straight victories, but have yet to win a game away from Notre Dame Stadium. The No. 24 Irish must avoid their tendency to accumulate penalties and turn the ball over if they want a shot at ending Tennessee's hopes of becoming back-to-back national champions.
Tennessee's trademark is its stifling defense, which has not allowed a rushing touchdown all season. The Volunteer defense ranks sixth in the nation in total defense, rushing defense and scoring defense.
Lining up to halt the Irish attack are some of the top defensive players in the country. Deon Grant and Dwayne Goodrich are among the top defensive backs in the nation. Raynoch Thompson leads Tennessee with 52 tackles at defensive linebacker, and defensive end Shaun Ellis has 15 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Notre Dame quarterback Jarious Jackson captains the Irish offense as a threat in the air and on the ground. Running backs Tony Fisher and Julius Jones have upped their output behind the protection of John Merandi and company. Bobby Brown's fourth-quarter reception against Navy kept the Irish in the game.
The Irish will have their hands full in containing the Volunteer offense. Volunteer running back Jamal Lewis has rushed for more than 2,500 yards in his career, while quarterback Tee Martin is averaging more than 200 yards per game in passing this year. Tennessee receiver Cedrick Wilson may miss the game because of an injured hamstring.
However, Notre Dame's defensive line and secondary are each ranked among the top 10 in the country. Lamont Bryant and Grant Irons highlight the defensive end position. Seniors on the secondary — A'Jani Sanders, Deke Cooper and Deveron Harper — have come up with key interceptions and fumble recoveries throughout the year. However, Sanders is questionable for Saturday after a stomach injury suffered against Navy.
Tennessee has a 20-game home winning streak going, and has not lost a non-conference home game since falling to Notre Dame in 1990. The Irish got the 34-29 victory despite 516 yards of Tennessee offense, 10 Notre Dame penalties and a fumble inside the Volunteers' 5-yard line.
All Sports Stories for Friday, November 5, 1999