What happened to O-line?

After getting considerable credit for Tennessee's 7-1 start, the Vol offensive line took a lot of the blame for Saturday night's 17-13 loss to Notre Dame.

The Irish registered five sacks that totalled 44 yards. One of the sacks caused Tennessee QB Erik Ainge to suffer a separated shoulder that sidelined him for the second half. The Irish also forced Ainge and backup Rick Clausen to hurry several passes.

Making all of this especially discouraging was the fact Notre Dame created most of this havoc with a three-man rush. In essence, five Vols were unable to block three defenders long enough for Tennessee's receivers to run their routes.

Was there a reason Notre Dame managed to apply so much pressure?

''Yeah, number 44,'' Vol head man Phillip Fulmer replied. ''He's a heck of a player.''

The reference was to Irish defensive end Justin Tuck, who recorded two first-half sacks and another tackle for loss. But Tuck wasn't alone. Several of his teammates spent considerable time in Tennessee's offensive backfield Saturday afternoon.

''A lot of times they'd set us up outside, then come under,'' Fulmer said. ''Other times they did a good job of really pushing upfield from the outside, and when the quarterback stepped up, they had good pressure inside. It was a combination of both.''

Fulmer said Tennessee ''moved the pocket some'' (rolled the quarterback to the left or right) and ''probably should've done it a little bit more.''

Tennessee's O-line also came up empty on a crucial fourth-and-one running play at the Notre Dame 34-yard line in the fourth quarter. Not only did the front not get a surge, but it allowed a Notre Dame lineman to hit Gerald Riggs virtually as he took the handoff, stopping him for no gain. With the Irish leading 14-13, a first down there probably would've put Tennessee in position to kick a go-ahead field goal.


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