SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- Notre Dame found a way to win again.
Tennessee found a way to lose again.
It's been the story of the season for the two teams as the Irish
continue to look like they're getting closer to being an elite team
and the Volunteers continue to look increasingly mediocre.
The Volunteers looked as though they might be able to rally for
a victory Saturday after coming back from 18 points down to tie the
score at 21. But Brady Quinn completed a 73-yard pass to Jeff
Samardzija to set up the go-ahead touchdown and spark the
eighth-ranked Irish to a 41-21 victory Saturday.
"All the momentum swung back our way on that one play," Notre
Dame coach Charlie Weis said.
It was a short pass to the left, but Samardzija eluded a couple
of tacklers and raced down the sideline before being caught from
behind by Antwan Stewart at the 2-yard line.
"I was looking back trying to give a stiff arm, when I really
didn't need to," Samardzija said. "(Maurice) Stovall put on a
great block for me up on the 50 and it just kind of opened up the
whole seam for me down the sideline."
Samardzija capped the drive with 4-yard TD catch for Quinn's
third TD pass of the game.
Quinn was 20-of-33 for 295 yards and threw two touchdown passes
in the span of a minute to give the Irish (6-2) a 14-0 lead. The
Vols managed to slow him until late in the third quarter, when
Quinn finished the game by completing 5-of-8 passes for 93 yards,
setting up the go-ahead TD and a pair of field goals by D.J.
"We had some time in the game when we were unproductive, but we
challenged ourselves to see how productive we could be against this
defense," Quinn said.
Samardzija's TD catch was his 12th of the season, breaking the
mark of 11 set by Derrick Mayes in 1994.
Tom Zbikowski iced the victory with an interception 33 yards for
a touchdown. He also had a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown in
the second quarter. The two returns for touchdowns give Zbikowski
four TDs in three games. He also had a 60-yard punt return against
USC and an 83-yard interception return against Brigham Young.
"I'm trying to catch up with Jeff as much as I can," Zbikowski
Weis was pleased to see his defense and special teams
contribute, even if it was Zbikowski on both plays.
"He lifted my spirits a little bit," Weis said. "Any time
you're not an offensive player and you're responsible for two
touchdowns, I think that's a major factor in the game."
Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, who helped called the offensive
plays, said it was another disappointing loss.
"When we got it back to 21-21, I thought we had us a football
game. Obviously, their kicking game and the turnovers at the end, I
don't think truly reflected what the score was. I thought our
defense played well enough to win the game, we made progress in
some areas on the offensive side, at times. We have just continued
to be our own worst enemies at times."
The victory made Notre Dame bowl eligible in consecutive years
for the first time since 1997-98, Bob Davie's first two years as
coach. If the Irish can win their final three games against Navy,
Syracuse and Stanford, they could be eligible for a BCS berth for
the first time since 2000.
"We've got to keep taking it one week at a time," Zbikowski
The Volunteers lost their fourth straight for the first time
since 1988, which also is the last time they failed to go to a bowl
game. The Vols must win their last three against Memphis,
Vanderbilt and Kentucky to become bowl eligible.
Linebacker Kevin Simon still finds it hard to believe.
"If you would have told us at the beginning of the season, I
would have told you you're crazy. No way," he said. "But that's
where we're at. We're 3-5 and fighting to get bowl eligible."
The 41 points were the most allowed this season by Tennessee,
which gave up 27 points at LSU and against Georgia. The three TD
passes surrendered by the Volunteers also equaled the amount they
gave up in their first seven games combined.
Vols linebacker Kevin Simon said he doesn't think the Irish
offense was the best Tennessee has said.
"They have more playmakers than anyone we've played," he said.
"Samardzija is probably the best receiver we've played all year.
They have more star power and a good coach to boot."
Top 25 Overview
It was over when... With the score tied at 21 in the fourth quarter, the Irish scored 20 consecutive points to pull away.
Gameball goes to... Notre Dame's Tom Zbikowski. Zbikowski returned a 78-yard punt and a 33-yard interception for touchdowns.
Stat of the game... 2000: The last year the Irish were eligible for a Bowl
Championship Series berth.