Head coach Charlie Weis repeatedly said during his Tuesday press conference that the Volunteer defense would be the best group his team would see in 2005. The numbers back it up. The Vols are only giving up 16 points per game. Notre Dame is averaging 38 a contest. It is apparent that Weis got his message of not looking at Tennessee's 3-4 record as an indicator of their talent level through to his players and coaches.
"We need to play physical," offensive line coach John Latina said. "They are a very physical group. I played against them when I was in the Southeastern Conference. Most of the kids are back on defense, especially the front seven. We know that they are a very talented group of kids. They are athletic as well as physical. We have to play very well. We have to play fundamentally well. We have to play smart. We have to play hard. It's our biggest challenge. They're the best defense and front we've seen all year."
Latina's offensive line goes up against a front four that many regard as one of the best in the nation. Defensive ends Parys Haralson and Jason Hall have combined for 20 tackles for loss and 10 and a half sacks. Tennessee is only allowing 85 yards a game on the ground. The Notre Dame line, which has allowed 11 sacks in 2005, will be put to the test.
"There is no doubt they understand the challenge this week," Latina said. "My group does because I played against them last year. They realize the caliber of players they have. Our team had a good first two days (of practice) and we need to continue to do so tomorrow and Thursday. We have to start out good on offense because we're playing the best defense we've played all year."
The Volunteer defense has not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season. The highest total they have given up is 94 to Georgia's Thomas Brown. Irish running back Darius Walker will be looking to break that streak on Saturday but is impressed by what he has seen on film.
"For me, personally, I think we're playing the best defense I've seen all year," Walker said. "Their linebackers are incredible. Their front four is dominant. Their secondary is fast. This is definitely going to be a challenge for us."
"It's interesting how their record is 3-4. If you break down the games, you can kind of see its sort of those one-play things that determines the game. They had that fumble in the end zone when they're we're driving for the lead. They haven't been getting the breaks. Their defense is incredible. The statistics sort of speak for themselves. They are allowing 16 points per game. They've only allowed three passing touchdowns all year. They haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher. There are a lot of things that they've been doing that's been pretty dominant."
*The news of Weis's contract extension is days old but Tuesday was the first time the media got a chance to gauge the players' reactions. The length of the new deal, 10 years, won't affect too many of the older guys on the roster but they were happy to hear Weis would be around for future Notre Dame players.
"I saw it on the Internet," Walker said of the news last Saturday. "It's a nice little deal. I guess you could say it was kind of expected. It brings a sense of security when you know a coach and his staff is going to be around for awhile. It makes you feel more comfortable with him. It allows you to develop more personal relationships with the coaches."
"I sure Coach is a little more excited than anybody else," Jeff Samardzija said. "You would have to be. I can't stay here for 10 years but I think it's a great thing. Anytime you can get a person of Coach's caliber to agree to such terms, I'm sure the University wouldn't want anyone else but Coach representing them. It's a good thing for a lot of people.
"It's a good situation overall. For people coming in, you know who your coach is going to be. We know who are coach is going to be. It's definitely a good thing, not a bad thing."
*This season has been a record-breaking one for quarterback Brady Quinn. The six touchdown passes vs. BYU was a single game high for an Irish signal caller and he broke Ron Powlus's mark of 19 passing scores in one season in the same game.
The junior is on the verge of breaking another mark. With just 401 more passing yards, he'll break the single season passing mark. Jarious Jackson held the previous record in 1999 when he threw for 2, 753 yards. Quinn already has three games over 400 passing yards (Michigan State, Purdue, BYU) and is averaging 336 yards per game through the air. He's also the only Notre Dame quarterback to throw for over 400 yards four times in a career. To put that into perspective, no one has even done that twice in Notre Dame history except for Quinn.