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Role reversal for Irish and Vols

Mike Gilloon | Friday, November 4, 2005

Here we go again.

There’s another late-season game tomorrow at Notre Dame Stadium involving a head coach under fire and an offensive system that can’t seem to find its way out of a paper bag. Two of the most storied programs in college football history will meet in one of the best fight-song matches of the season, but the play on the field looks to be a mismatch. One team is so down after last week’s loss to a school they have in the past had no trouble beating, they might not be able to get up.

But, for once, that team is not Notre Dame. The Irish aren’t trying to recover from another loss to Boston College or looking for a way to somehow keep Florida State from racking up 37 points.

The team is Tennessee, and that coach is Phillip Fulmer. Fulmer shook up his coaching staff this week in an attempt to get this season back on track as Randy Sanders stepped aside as offensive coordinator Monday in one of the scariest Halloweens in Volunteer football history.

But doesn’t it feel like the roles should be reversed?

The Irish have been the team to underachieve and grasp around unsuccessfully for an effective offense in the past decade. There’s no question, though, that this is a new season for the Irish – with a new coach and definitely a different offense.

It’s Tennessee that has the problems. It’s 3-4 record is indicative of the rocky situation on Rocky Top. The Vols don’t even have a solid No. 1 quarterback this late in the year, as both Erik Ainge and Rick Clausen have tried to run this ineffective offense. The situation is so bad that several fans wore paper bags over theirheads last week during Tennessee’s 16-15 home loss to South Carolina, led by the least popular man in Knoxville – Steve Spurrier.

But all of this could help the Volunteers tomorrow.

Will the Irish underestimate Tennessee? Are the Irish too thrilled with the fact they are about two plays away from being No. 1 in the nation?

They shouldn’t be. As Irish defensive coordinator Rick Minter said, the Volunteers are scholarship players too. Notre Dame should remind itself that the Volunteers secondary has given up just three passing touchdowns all season

Tennessee will need to put on its best performance of the season to have a chance at upsetting No. 8 Notre Dame.

It just might. The Volunteers are on the road – away from their fans, many of which have seem to have forgotten that Fulmer really is a good coach.

They don’t have to hear local talk radio in Knoxville bemoaning this underperforming football team. Tennessee is hurt but very dangerous.

Remember one thing – the SEC is by far the toughest conference in the country. The Volunteers are 3-4, but those losses have come to Florida, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina – four squads with a combined record of 26-6. The Volunteers don’t seem to be scared of raucous environments either – they ventured into Death Valley at LSU earlier this season and came out 30-27 overtime winners.

There’s an ugly, angry, orange animal on its way to South Bend. The Irish had better have their guard up.