KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Brandon Hoyte's tackle might have
changed the course of the season for Notre Dame. It altered
Tennessee's outlook Saturday night.
Tennessee (No. 11 ESPN/USA Today, No. 9 AP) lost the second member of its heralded freshman
quarterback duo and the Fighting Irish capitalized with an
interception return for a touchdown, then held on to win 17-13.
Erik Ainge separated his right shoulder on the final play of the
first half when he recovered his own fumble and was tackled by
Hoyte for a 14-yard loss.
Ainge didn't return, and the game was not the same afterward.
"You don't just hit people to tackle them. You tackle them so
they won't get back up. I say that respectfully," Hoyte said.
"We had a great opportunity. We've lost a lot of close games
and we needed to prove what type of team we are. I think that
Ainge's injury came a week after Brent Schaeffer broke his
Junior Rick Clausen, the younger brother of former Tennessee
quarterback Casey Clausen, replaced Ainge in the second half and
almost immediately made a big mistake.
Clausen was being sacked by Derek Landri when he let the ball
go. Notre Dame's Mike Goolsby caught it and returned it 26 yards
for a touchdown and a 14-10 lead. The Irish (6-3) never trailed
"It feels good to be aggressive on defense rather than just
sitting back," Goolsby said. "This is just one of those huge
games like Nebraska or (Texas) A&M from my freshman year."
The loss doesn't affect the Southeastern Conference standings
for the Vols (7-2), who now have a week off to regroup. Wins over
also-rans Vanderbilt and Kentucky later this month would send
Tennessee to the SEC championship as the East division winner.
"Losing Erik was a real disappointment," Tennessee coach
Phillip Fulmer said. "I thought Rick came in and competed. Whether
it's Rick, Brent or Erik, people around him have to play well."
Fulmer said he didn't know when Ainge would return. Team
trainers said he was out indefinitely.
Notre Dame padded its lead in the fourth quarter with D.J.
Fitzpatrick's 39-yard field goal. Then all the Irish had to do was
stop Tennessee's hapless offense. The Vols punted on their next
possession, but got the ball back for a final chance with 2:12
Tennessee had a bad snap that Clausen had to recover 15 yards
behind the line of scrimmage. The Vols' last gasp came on
fourth-and-18 when Clausen's pass was incomplete, and the Notre
Dame bench erupted in celebration.
"Every win against a top 10 team is huge," Notre Dame coach
Tyrone Willingham said. "There is no better time for us to step up
than right now. We couldn't afford to wait another week."
Brady Quinn was 12-of-23 for 118 yards and a touchdown for Notre
Dame, which only had 216 yards of total offense.
Notre Dame took its first lead, 7-3, in the first quarter on
Quinn's 8-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Fasano, ending a drive
that featured Darius Walker's 32-yard run.
Tennessee got back in it in the second quarter when Ainge dumped
off the ball to Cedric Houston as he was being pressured. Houston
dodged defenders and beat Notre Dame's Dwight Ellick to the end
zone for a 56-yard touchdown.
Clausen finished 10-of-18 for 120 yards, but the Vols were held
to 58 yards rushing.