Irish Defensive Backs Ready for Challenge

Notre Dame travels to Knoxville Saturday to face No. 9 Tennessee. This will be the seventh meeting between these two teams and the Vols hold a 4-2 edge in the series. This series features a contest between two of the winningest programs in college football history. Notre Dame is second in all time victories with 801 and Tennessee is rated ninth with 742.

When the ball is kicked off at 3:30 Saturday there will be over 105,000 thousand fans roaring their approval of this match up and the great majority of the fans will be rooting for the home team.

The Irish are indeed the underdogs in this game and many of their own fans are counting them out even before the first snap. Fortunately, the football players are not hoisting the white flag.

In fact, sophomore safety Tom Zbikowski told us this week of practice has been eerily similar to the week of practice before one of Notre Dame's biggest victories this year.

"The attitude and confidence of the team is real good," Zbikowski said. "We are seeing the same significance and similarities of this game as the Michigan game when we were coming off that disappointing loss. We are focused and practice has been going real good so far."

The Volunteers are rated No. 8 in this week's BCS poll but reportedly believe they are not getting the respect they deserve. Zbikowski says he's got plenty of respect for this Tennessee football team.

"They are tough," he said. "Tennessee is always going to have those athletes, SEC speed. They have a good offense, good running back, good receivers, and good quarterback. So it is another challenge for us, but we are up to it."

The Irish know they are heading into a hostile and intimidating environment at Tennessee, but the young defense back, who is often referred to as a warrior, is looking forward to it.

"I love going into rough places like that," Zbikowski said. "That is why you come to Notre Dame and that is why you play big-time college football for games like this with crowds and stadiums like Tennessee."

The Notre Dame defense had a poor showing in the second half against Boston College and there are a lot of questions about their confidence, but senior defensive back Preston Jackson doesn't have any doubts.

"Tennessee is a good team, but I think our defense is going to be a little much for them," he said. "We are going to be ready, well prepared, and we are going to go down there fight hard and play Notre Dame Football."

Although the players have had a weekend off and several days of practice to focus on this week's opponent, the loss to BC cannot be completely forgotten.

"As an athlete and a competitor you always want to get that sour taste out of your mouth," said Jackson of the BC loss. "And you have your true loyal fans who want to see you succeed and you want to bounce back and do it for yourself and those who wore these jerseys before you."

The Irish appear to have their backs against the wall with a 5-3 record and bowl eligibility not secured yet. The fiery Jackson doesn't agree with this assessment.

"People have counted us ou,t and they did that a couple of years ago when coach Willingham first came here," Jackson said. "That's the norm right now. We are a 5-3 football team, which is a winning record and we've still got good bowl chances. We are going to play a tough team in Tennessee and knock off the last two teams - Pittsburgh and SC and we are going out fighting whichever way it comes."

Senior defensive back Dwight Ellick agrees with his teammates about the offense they will face this Saturday.

"The Tennessee receivers are very athletic," Ellick said. "I don't think they have one receiver who they go to all the time. They spread the ball out, and some teams can't do that, but they can.

"They have four or five good receivers who can go out there and contribute and they take advantage of that. To win, we will have to come out and compete just like we did against Michigan."

Ellick believes the Irish are ready for the Vols.

"The mood and confidence level is definitely up," he said. "Boston College was two weeks ago, and not having a game last week definitely helped us. We were able to sit back, relax, watch some football, get healthy, and now we are ready to play some good football."

Irish Eyes believes this upcoming game is huge for the Notre Dame players, fans, coaches and the overall football program. An Irish victory will restore some credibility to this team and season. A loss would not only insure another mediocre season, but could have a negative effect on recruiting presently and in the future. Top Stories