If I've learned one truth in college football it's that a team can only go as far as their quarterback will take them. That truth is very evident when looking at the Tennessee football program heading into Saturday's game.
The Volunteers have been anemic on offense coming into the game ranked No. 108 out of 117 teams in scoring offense (16.14 points per game), 98th in rushing (110. 71 yards per game) and 79th in passing (204 yards per game)—hardly the numbers we're used to seeing out the Vols.
Ask a Vol fan why they've struggled on offense and some would point to poor quarterback play. That's hardly the only reason that Tennessee has struggled, but good quarterback play can take you a long way as Irish fans are finding out with Brady Quinn this season.
Clausen's numbers are respectable (59% completions, 1,100 yards, but only 3 TDs), but the lefty quarterback hasn't won many games, thus the reason for the change. Ainge enters the game with much worse numbers (35-of-84, 41 %, 323 yards, 2 TDs, but 4 INTs), but many Volunteer fans feel Ainge is the quarterback of the future.
I guess there is no better time than the present when you're 3-4 and your season is sinking fast.
While the Vols have struggled on offense, their defense has been spectacular. There is no question this will be the best defense the potent Irish offense will face up until now and probably the rest of the season.
The Volunteers are dangerous on defense because they can usually create enough pressure on the quarterback while rushing just their front four defensive linemen.
Not even USC could rush just four against the Irish and have success. The Trojans were forced to bring pressure with their linebackers and secondary. Purdue tried to blitz and got bombed by Brady Quinn. BYU blitzed and tried to confuse Quinn, and they also got torched by the "Mighty Quinn."
But Tennessee could have the recipe to stall the Irish offense. Can Quinn be successful if the Volunteer defense drops seven in coverage?
The interesting match-up will be the Tennessee corners versus Stovall and Samardzija. If Tennessee tries to double-cover both or either with a safety, the middle of the field should be open all day and Irish tight ends Anthony Fasano and John Carlson should have big days.
But the real story of this game on Saturday will be how many points can the Tennessee offense score on Notre Dame's defense? If they can score 24 or more, they might have a chance.
The Volunteers have scored 24 or more twice this season—30 against LSU and 27 against Ole Miss. However, in their last three games, all losses, they've averaged a shade under 11 points.
With two weeks to prepare, Irish head coach Charlie Weis should have a solid game plan against a good Tennessee defense. The Tennessee offense lost their offensive coordinator and their starting quarterback this week alone. Some teams respond to adversity, will Tennessee? The evidence, at least this year, has shown they haven't.
Mike Frank Prediction
I think Tennessee will come out fired up, but an ineffective Volunteer offense, and a solid game plan by the Irish on offense quickly stifles that emotion.
Notre Dame: 31 Tennessee: 14