Randy Sanders stepped down as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator mere days before the Notre Dame game this November. Could the Vols shock the football world by hanging 31 points on the Irish? Sure. Tennessee’s 2005 offense is far more talented than Kentucky’s 2004 offense, and Notre Dame’s 2005 defense isn’t nearly as good as Tennessee’s 2004 defense.
The Irish are allowing 425 yards and 25.3 points per game this year. They don’t stop people; they outscore them. That strategy failed miserably against a mediocre Michigan State team, resulting in a 44-41 loss. It might fail again this Saturday.
Hudson’s resignation in 2004 changed Kentucky’s offensive tendencies just enough to foul up Tennessee’s defensive gameplan. It’s entirely possible Sanders’ resignation will change the Vols’ offensive ‘look’ just enough to give an already troubled Notre Dame defense some additional problems.
Here’s another ray of hope: Tennessee’s 1988 defense was even worse than the 2005 offense. The ‘88 Vols allowed 34 points to LSU, 38 to Auburn and 52 to Washington State on consecutive Saturdays en route to an 0-5 start. Defensive coordinator Ken Donahue resigned at this point. After losing 28-20 to No. 20 Alabama, Tennessee won its last five games, allowing just 15 points per game during that span.
Strange as it sounds, an in-season staff change seems to galvanize a team. It worked for Tennessee’s defense in 1988 and it worked for Kentucky’s offense in 2004. It worked for the Florida Gators in 2004, too. Four weeks after head coach Ron Zook was fired, Florida upset No. 8 Florida State. For what it’s worth, Notre Dame enters Saturday’s game with Tennessee ranked No. 8.
Here are four more reasons the Vols could upset the Irish this Saturday
1. After drilling Purdue (49-28), playing Southern Cal to a three-point loss (31-34) and crushing Brigham Young (49-23), how can the Irish possibly get up for a team that’s 3-4 and averaging 15 points per game?
2. The Vols have endured a season’s worth of penalties and turnovers through the first seven games. What if they’ve gotten it all out of their system and play a relatively mistake-free game Saturday in South Bend?
3. Tennessee plays far better on the road than at home. All of its big victories the past five years (Florida in 2001, Miami in 2003, Georgia in 2004, LSU in 2005) occurred on the opponent’s field.
4. John Chavis is Tennessee’s defensive coordinator, and he lives for games like this.