Offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick is hoping the week off will refocus his struggling Irish offense. Notre Dame continues to suffer from inconsistency on offense and Diedrick says the Irish will have their hands full against one of the better teams in the country on Saturday.
"They look, on tape, like they're very athletic, got good quickness and very good speed. I think overall, defensively, they've got excellent team speed," said Diedrick of the Volunteers.
Probably the biggest challenge for the Irish offense on Saturday will be communicating in one of the toughest environments to play in college football. 109,000 screaming fans will make it difficult for the Irish remain on the same page throughout the game.
Diedrick says the Irish work on how to communicate in this type of situation all year in practices.
"You start that from the very beginning, even in spring ball, but in fall camp, doing your silent counts and all of those things," Diedrick said. "You always have to make your players very much aware, you're communication, the signals and things like that.
"I think when you go into an environment like this, where you know the crowd noise is going to be a factor, I think, No. 1, you have to be focused as a player. You still have to be able to communicate non-verbally. It probably prevents you from going in and trying to utilize a lot of checks and whatnot. You're probably going to be playing with a lot more locked plays."
Diedrick mentioned after the Boston College game that some positions on offense could be open for competition. He said he'd be looking at a number of guys during the off week try to find some answers to the inconsistent offense.
We asked Diedrick if he looked at some new players, and if we might see some new numbers out on the field on Saturday.
"We have, we did, and we are and they are. No names," he said.
Defensive coordinator Kent Baer said the Volunteer offense has been impressive on film. Tennessee is averaging 28 points per game in one of the toughest conferences in college football, all while being led by two freshmen quarterbacks.
"They use some personnel groups that we haven't seen much so that's going to create some problems," Baer said of the Vols offense.
Leading the offense for the Vols is their running game. Tennessee is rushing for 181 yards per game and are led by their two-headed monster in Cedric Houston and Gerald Riggs Jr.
"They're good," Baer said of the Vol backs. "That's the best group of backs we've seen, for sure.
"They're very similar athletically and size-wise to Michigan. They've got a young quarterback like Michigan does, great receivers, a lot of speed. The thing they're better than Michigan is their backfield is so strong. Riggs is a different back than Houston. They create problems for you. They've got great feet--great vision. Houston's probably a little faster. Riggs is bigger."
Leading the way for the backs is a big and talented offensive line. The Volunteers average 313 pounds per man along the offensive line.
"That's a big, good-looking group of guys," said Baer of the Volunteer line. "It's a good challenge for our front. They're a typical SEC, Tennessee-looking football team. Great athletic people with tremendous size."
Offensive tackles and tight ends coach Mike Denbrock said the Volunteer defensive line has impressed him on film.
"I think that by far they're the most talented and athletic group that we've gone up against so far this season," Denbrock said. "They're big, they're mobile, they're aggressive, and they play hard every down. We're going to have do a good job of matching that intensity and getting after them."
The mood in the media room after Tuesday's practice was light and business as usual. We asked Denbrock if he felt the Irish players have put the Boston College loss behind them at this point.
"I think it's an on going process," he said. "I think they realize that there's some great things ahead of us if we bear down, if we refocus ourselves. What better place to do that than to match yourself against a team at the top of the SEC? We've got a chance to go down to their place and hopefully play pretty well."
With the Irish needing to win at least one more game to become bowl-eligible, we asked Debrock if that put more pressure on this Irish team considering they're playing two top 10 teams in the next three games.
"We've left ourselves no way out," Denbrock said. "It's unfortunate that we're in that position. There's no reason we should've been or had to be. It's kind of the way circumstances of the season have worked themselves out. All I know we can't go back and fix what's already been done."
The Irish could get a boost from the return of tight ends Marcus Freeman and Jerome Collins. Both players have been banged up for the last two weeks and didn't play against Boston College. Denbrock said we might see both back on the field this weekend.
"They moved a little bit better today in practice," Debrock said of the two tight ends. "We're going to have to keep an eye on them as the week goes along. We didn't practice them very much last week to get them as healthy as we possibly could. We really need those guys to help us down the stretch."