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FOOTBALL: Volunteers are setting no ‘trap’ for the Irish

Joe Meixell | Wednesday, November 2, 2005

The “trap” is to assume a 3-4 team is not as competitive as a 5-2 team. The “trap” is to expect a Notre Dame victory as automatic Saturday.

But Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis made himself absolutely clear at his Tuesday press conference – there’s no such thing as a “trap” against Tennessee.

“This is the scariest 3-4 team that you’re ever going to go against, because they’re capable of beating everybody every week,” Weis said. “And they know it. Our guys know it, too.”

Tennessee’s defense has given up only three passing touchdowns in seven games. Their four losses have come against teams with a combined record of 26-6. And that includes a loss to undefeated Alabama (8-0), who scored just six points on the Volunteers in a 6-3 decision.

“I know it’s going to be a tough challenge, especially from the game we had with them last year it was down to the wire,” Notre Dame running back Darius Walker said. “So it’s probably going to be another one of those kinds of games.”

Notre Dame beat Tennessee, 17-13, last season. Weis said his plan this week is to hammer home to his players that the Volunteers have the talent, size and will to beat any team in the country. And how will he do it?

“All you have to do is watch the tape,” Weis said.

That game tape will show a Volunteer offense that is struggling but also multi-faceted.

Like last season – when quarterbacks Brent Shaeffer and Erik Ainge were splitting snaps leading up to Notre Dame’s visit – Ainge and Rick Clausen have shared duties under center this season.

Clausen has completed 59.4 percent of his passes and averages 158.1 yards per game. He has thrown three touchdowns to four interceptions in seven game appearances. Ainge has been even less successful with two touchdowns, four interceptions and a 64.6 passing yards average in five game appearances.

But Weis said not having a left-handed quarterback in practice has made the game preparation slightly less than ideal.

“Well, with not having a lefty quarterback in practice, that is a little bit of a problem because obviously there’s plays designed for a righty quarterback and lefty quarterback that are different than just your regular drop-back passes,” the coach said.

Gerald Riggs, Jr., Tennessee’s starting running back to begin the season and its primary offensive weapon, is out for the season with lower leg and ankle injuries. Coupled with Tennessee’s low points per game average (16.1), such news and statistics could have a team like Notre Dame licking its chops.

Still, while the Irish average 152 rush yards per game, the Volunteers have not surrendered 100 yards rushing to a single back this season. Their defense only surrenders 16.0 points per game.

And the Volunteers’ last two losses have gone down to the wire. Last Saturday, South Carolina kicked a 49-yard field goal with less than three minutes remaining to best Tennessee. And the week before, Tennessee fullback Cory Anderson fumbled out of the end zone with 5:08 remaining, giving Alabama the ball back for the eventual game-winning field goal.

Weis refuses to believe Tennessee deserves to be 3-4. When a reporter asked why Weis classified Notre Dame’s previous 6-6 season as inconsistent, but not Tennessee’s current season as so, Weis made his distinction clear.

“Sometimes inconsistency can be different. I thought we were inconsistent, that’s why I thought we were 6-6 [last season],” he said. “I think they’re 3-4 because they’ve been unfortunate in critical situations. I don’t think that’s inconsistent.

“I think no one wants to turn the ball over going into the end zone two weeks in a row. I mean, that’s just almost a fluke … There’s a difference between that and being inconsistent. When you go out and lose by 30, it’s different than when you lose on one critical play.”