A Year of Living Dangerously

To summarize Tennessee's loss to Notre Dame: The Vols simply got beat at their own game. Or if you live by the sword you die by the sword.

The comparison I use to illustrate this point is the Vols last home game against Alabama. Tennessee won that contest by the identical score that it lost the Notre Dame game — 17-13. The key play in both contests was a defensive touchdown. Tennessee's defensive TD came on the second play of the game when Parys Haralson picked up a fumble and rambled 18 yards for a touchdown. Notre Dame's defensive score occurred on UT's second possession of the second half when linebacker Mike Goolsby returned an interception 26 yards for a score.

Here are some other examples of the reverse imagery presented by UT's last two home contests vs. storied opponents in Alabama and Notre Dame.

• Alabama's offense was led by third-team quarterback Spencer Pennington after injuries felled the Crimson Tide's No. 1 and No. 2 signal callers. Tennessee faced the identical situation after Erik Ainge followed fellow freshmen Brent Schaeffer to the sidelines and No. 3 QB Rick Clausen took over in the second half.

• Alabama held a 16-11 advantage in first downs over Tennessee while UT held a 17-13 advantage over Notre Dame.

• Alabama ran 67 plays to Tennessee's 56 plays while Tennessee ran 75 plays to Notre Dame's 59.

• Tennessee had a two-sack advantage over Alabama in their win while Notre Dame enjoyed a two-sack advantage over UT in its victory.

• Tennessee had the ball for 32:32 against Notre Dame while Alabama held the ball for 33:56 vs. Tennessee. In each case the loser control the football longer than the winner.

• Bama scored 10 points in the first half of its loss to UT with only a field goal in the second half, just as the Vols did in their loss to Notre Dame.

• Despite beating Alabama, the Vols converted only 2-of-12 third down opportunities. Likewise, the Fighting Irish won despite converting only 3-of-14 third down opportunities.

• Tennessee was 2-of-2 in the red zone in its loss to Notre Dame while Alabama was 3-of-3 in the red zone in its loss to UT.

• Alabama's first score against UT covered five plays and 44 yards. Tennessee's last score against Notre Dame covered five plays and 44 yards.

There were some other remarkable similarities in these two games that stayed true to course.

• Alabama and Notre Dame each averaged 2.7 yards per carry vs. Tennessee.

• Tennessee averaged 12.8 yards per completion vs. Notre Dame and 13.2 yards per completion vs. Bama.

• There were 15 total punts in the UA game and 16 total punts in the N.D. game.

• The Vols finished with 58 net yards rushing against Notre Dame and 63 net yards against Alabama.

• The Fighting Irish held a 40-yard rushing advantage while Bama held a 42-yard edge on the ground.

• Notre Dame finished with 216 total yards and Alabama finished with 218 total yards.

James Wilhoit's first field goal against Notre Dame followed a nine-play, 57-yard drive. His only field goal against Alabama followed an eight-play, 57-yard drive.

• Tennessee was outscored 3-0 in the fourth quarter against Alabama and 3-0 in the fourth quarter against Alabama.

• Alabama completed 14-of-28 passes vs. UT while Notre Dame connected on 12-of-23 pass attempts.

• Tennessee's net punting average was 39.7 vs. Bama and 39.5 vs. Notre Dame.

In many respects, Alabama provided Notre Dame with the blueprint on how to beat Tennessee at home with less overall talent. The difference is that the Vols forced the big break against Bama and the Irish forced the big break vs. Tennessee.

This was the fifth game Tennessee has played this in the 2004 season that was decided by five or fewer points. That's the most games decided by less than a touchdown in any regular season going back to 1973 which also had five. There have never been more than five games decided by less than a touchdown in other season in UT football history.

In fact, General Robert R. Neyland went from 1933 to 1946 coaching in a total of five games decided by less than a touchdown. Five of UT's first nine games this fall have been decided by less than a touchdown. The Vols won the first four which is the most games won by any UT team in one season.

However, if you play enough tight games, the breaks are bound to eventually go against you — so will the decision.

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