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Tired, hurt Volunteers to take on Irish

Matt Lozar | Thursday, November 4, 2004

The difficult Southeastern Conference schedule may be catching up with the Volunteers.

Saturday will be Tennessee’s eighth consecutive game without a bye week with six of those games coming against SEC opponents. Going 5-1 in those six games, the Volunteers won those five by a combined 19 points while their loss was a blowout – 34-10 to Georgia at Neyland Stadium.

That difficult stretch has left the Volunteers physcially hurting – highlighted by the loss of quarterback Brent Schaeffer to a broken collarbone.

“We are a little more banged up than we have been,” Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said. “The guys have fought through that all season long. Because it is [so] much to challenging physically, particularly with the schedule we play and have had to play for young people to do that. You have to be really lucky to get through it without any injuries.”

The last time Notre Dame traveled to Knoxville was in 1999 during Bob Davie’s third season at the Irish helm. The Irish lost 38-14, and it was the biggest regular season loss in Davie’s five years coaching the Irish. The last time the Irish played Tennessee, the Volunteers won 28-18 at Notre Dame Stadium.

Saturday will be the first time the Volunteers have faced Notre Dame’s pro-style attack, and it’s the first time Willingham has ever coached at Neyland Stadium.

“[The Irish] are very similar [to the 1999 team],” Fulmer said. “Their front line is very big and physical. Of course in 2001 they were different in that they were running the option, and now they are much more different in running a pro style of attack. So that is completely different. I guess in 1999 they ran the option as well the best I can remember. Offensively, they are different but again a big and physical team that is well coached. They play the kicking game well, so all of that is very similar.”

In his weekly press conference, Fulmer essentially outlined every position of the Irish football team as something that concerns him heading into Saturday’s game. He talked about Brady Quinn being a future star. Notre Dame’s offensive line being the most athletic the Volunteers have seen this year. The tight ends being a “big focus” in Tennessee’s game planning.

As for the defense, Fulmer said the defensive line is very athletic and that the linebackers may be the best in Notre Dame history. And the kicking game is very aggressive.

That’s a lot of praise for a 5-3 football team coming off of, what many players called, a devastating loss.

“As I talked with our football team [on Monday], we will have to fight and scratch, and give our best effort to get this win against Notre Dame,” Fulmer said. “What I need from our football team is one more big push here before we get a chance to take a break for the open date and then finish with our two SEC games.”