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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football VS Tennessee Volunteers, 2004

“Every win against a top team is big,” Notre Dame Head Coach Tyrone Willingham said. “I wouldn’t know where to rank this one, but it’s right there with Michigan and Florida State.” 

2004 NCAA Football: Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Tennessee Volunteers
Nov 6, 2004; Knoxville, TN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish #19 D.J. Fitzpatrick celebrates with holder #82 Matt Shelton to put the Irish up 4 in the fourth quarter against Tennessee Volunteers at Neyland Stadium. Fighting Irish beat the Vols 17-13. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports (©) Copyright 2004 by Matthew Emmons
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

And here we are ... this weekend is the Notre Dame home opener versus Tennessee State University. Since the two schools have never played before, I will throwback to a different Tennessee University this week for my Throwback Thursday article: Notre Dame VS the University of Tennessee, 2004.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have played the Tennessee Volunteers a total of eight times, with each team winning four times. Notre Dame’s largest margin of victory is 41-21 in 2005, and Tennessee’s largest margin of victory is 38-14 in 1999. Notre Dame’s longest win streak is two (2004-2005), and Tennessee’s longest win streak is three (1991-2001). Notre Dame’s all time record is 939-335-42 (.729), and Tennessee’s all time record is 867-410-53 (.672). Note Dame has had 107 consensus All-American’s to Tennessee’s 41. Notre Dame has had seven Heisman Trophy winners, to Tennessee’s zero. Notre Dame has had 525 NFL Draft picks to Tennessee’s 360. And Notre Dame has had 70 first round NFL Draft picks, to Tennessee’s 47.

The following excerpt from the 2004 match-up between Notre Dame and Tennessee comes from the Scholastic Magazine’s 2004 Football Review (Vol 146, #8), written by Mike Iselin.

Rocky Topped

On Nov. 6, Notre Dame travelled to Neyland Stadium with the hopes of toppling the No. 9 Tennessee Volunteers. Notre Dame was heavily outmatched by the Volunteers, who were favorites to win the Southeastern Conference East Division. Little did the Irish know that on that late-fall day, they would upset a top-10 team for the second time this season.

The first half of the game was close, but the Volunteers managed to maintain a slight lead. Notre Dame and Tennessee traded first-half touchdowns, while Tennessee kicker James Wilhoit tacked on a 30-yard field goal to give his Volunteers a three-point lead.

The tide of the game turned, however, on the last play of the first half. Instead of letting the clock run out, Tennessee Head Coach Philip Fulmer decided to attempt one last play, with quarterback Erik Ainge dropping back to pass for the end zone. Unfortunately for the Volunteers, Notre Dame senior linebacker Brandon Hoyte sacked Ainge in a play that resulted in a fumble and a separated right shoulder for the true freshman quarterback. That injury would sideline Ainge for the remainder of the game.

Fulmer addressed his team’s play-calling after the game, saying, “We ran the draw on the first play. We had to be safe and get it out of our end zone a little. Ordinarily, we’d run it again. We decided to take a shot at it. It went through me, and I thought we could get the match-up we wanted. I take the accountability.”

Tennessee’s defense attempted to make up for the loss of Ainge in the third quarter by coming out strong, and they successfully stopped Notre Dame’s first offensive drive of the second half. However, later in the third quarter, Notre Dame senior linebacker Mike Goolsby intercepted a pass from Tennessee’s backup quarterback, Rick Clausen, and returned it for a touchdown. This score gave the Irish a 14-10 lead going into the fourth quarter.

The action in the fourth quarter was minimal with the only scoring coming from field goals posted by each team. The Irish ended victorious with a final score of 17-13. This win gave Notre Dame its second victory over a top-10 team in what had been a very unpredictable season.

“Every win against a top team is big,” Notre Dame Head Coach Tyrone Willingham said. “I wouldn’t know where to rank this one, but it’s right there with Michigan and Florida State.”

Cheers & GO IRISH!