Killer plays

Tennessee allowed season highs in passing yards (295) and passing touchdowns (three) last weekend at Notre Dame. Although the Vols had some difficulty defending the pass, coordinator John Chavis has no difficulty defending the pass defenders. He says they actually played pretty well.

"Overall, I thought our guys did a decent job," he said, looking back on the South Bend trip. "When you play the sixth-leading offense in the nation, they're going to make some plays."

Basically, the Irish made three huge plays that accounted for more than half (151) of their passing yards. The first was a 43-yard touchdown pass to tight end Anthony Fasano on a third-and-eight crossing route. The second was a 35-yard touchdown pass to Maurice Stovall on a third-and-18 jump-ball. The last was a 73-yard crossing route to Jeff Samardzija on a third-and-10 at Notre Dame's 24-yard line.

"Usually, when you're talking about one, two or three plays," Chavis noted, "that means you got your butt beat."

Yep. The Vols lost 41-21. Still, 41 points wasn't at all indicative of how well Tennessee's defense played.

Notre Dame ran screen passes on four of its first five plays. Only one (a 15-yarder) produced a significant gain, and Chavis had an explanation for that one.

"We busted our man coverage one time," he said. "Other than that, they didn't get anything on the screens. We did a great job playing their screens."

The screens were designed to slow Tennessee's relentless pass rush, and the ploy worked. Moments later, Fasano had time to go from one side of the field all the way across to the other, then gather in Brady Quinn's pass and lumber 43 yards for the game's opening score.

"We gave ‘em too much time to throw on a crossing route," Chavis noted. "We were not in real good position and gave up a play for that touchdown."

On the next big gainer, Vol cornerback Roshaun Fellows was in great position but couldn't stop the 6-5 Stovall from pulling down the 35-yard TD pass from Quinn. Fellows was supposed to have help from a safety but it never arrived.

"The thing that bothers me is the second touchdown," Chavis said. "When we're in great position we've got to make that play. The defensive back didn't get any help."

Notre Dame's final big play didn't produce a touchdown but it proved to be a back-breaker. Samardzija caught a third-down crossing route short of the first-down marker but turned upfield when Vol cornerback Jonathan Wade slipped to the turf. Samardzija wound up gaining 73 yards to the Vol 3-yard line, and the Irish scored two plays later to break a 21-21 fourth-quarter tie.

"We slip when we're in a good coverage to stop the underneath route," Chavis said, shaking his head at the recollection. "We were going to make the tackle and be out of that drive. Those are the things you can't allow to happen that did."

Three third downs. Three completions. Three big plays. Other than that trio of mishaps, Tennessee's pass defense played exceptionally well. But those three plays proved to be decisive.

"We've got to get off the field," Chavis said. "We held the sixth-rated offense in the nation to one drive, and we gave them a 73-yard pass.

"The big plays we've got to eliminate."

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