Unlike last year, No. 4 Tennessee needs some help in the Bowl Championship Series rankings for a shot at the national title.
The Vols did their part to stay in contention for a second straight title with a solid 38-14 victory over No. 24 Notre Dame on Saturday, the worst Irish loss since 1987.
"I have to believe if we continue to play as we have, we'll be one of the teams that has an opportunity, and that's all you can ask for," Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer said about the BCS rankings, which determine which teams play for the national championship. "But right now our focus is entirely on Arkansas (next week's opponent)."
The Vols knew before the game that No. 2 Penn State had lost earlier in the day, and took advantage of the opportunity to move up in the polls with big plays and a tenacious defense. The loss ended a four-game winning streak for Notre Dame (5-4).
"They beat us," Irish coach Bob Davie said. "This game was played at a different speed by the team in orange."
Martin's 43-yard heave to Leonard Scott in the back of the end zone and Henry's 40-yard run up the middle in the third quarter gave the Vols a 31-7 lead. That was too much even for the Irish, who had come from behind to win three of their last four games.
Notre Dame tried by gambling in the kicking game. "We took our shots," Davie said.
The Irish faked a field goal to set up one touchdown and recovered an onsides kick late in the third quarter, but couldn't get any points out of it. Notre Dame also failed on a fake punt at midfield midway through the third quarter.
The Irish's two rushing touchdowns were the first two scores the Vol defense has given up on the ground all season.
"When they got that last touchdown, that was it," Tennessee defensive end Will Overstreet said. "We didn't cre what it took, or how we did it, we were going to keep them from getting to the end zone again."
Martin completed 18 of 32 passes for 196 yards. His other touchdown passes covered 2 yards to Eric Parker and 21 yards to Donte' Stallworth.
The Vols rushed for 217 yards by three players Martin, Henry and Jamal Lewis.
Martin ran 14 yards on a bootleg to score the Vols' last touchdown with 2:14 left in the game, capping an 18-play, 91-yard drive that took nearly 10 minutes off the clock and dashed any hopes Notre Dame had of a comeback.
"That last drive to go ahead and seal the game was an incredible effort," Fulmer said.
Jarious Jackson completed 11 of 18 passes for 127 yards, and was intercepted once, for Notre Dame. Julius Jones led the Irish in rushing with 46 yards.
Tennessee beat the halftime clock with an 81-yard drive in 12 plays, the score coming on the pass to Parker nine seconds before intermission for a 17-7 lead. "That hurt us," Davie said.
Martin hit Burney Veazey for 14 yards on a third-and-10, and a 17-yard swing pass to Lewis moved it to the Notre Dame 11.
On third down Martin's pass for Deon Grant, normally a defensive safety, was incomplete in the end zone. Notre Dame was flagged for pass interference, giving the Vols a first and goal at the Irish 2-yard-line with 16 seconds left.
With no time outs, Tennessee decided to try one more play before settling for a field goal attempt. Martin rolled right, buying time, and rifled the TD pass to Parker.
The Irish had cut it to 10-7 on a 65-yard drive that took nearly 8 1/2 minutes off the clock.
The first key play was a pass batted away from the intended receiver by Grant that was caught at the Tennessee 16 by a diving Joey Getherall, converting a third-and-7.
Four plays later Getherall, the holder, gained four yards on a fake field goal on fourth-and-2, giving the Irish a first down at the Tennessee 4. David Givens scored two plays later.
After Notre Dame missed a short field goal late in the first quarter the Vols drove 80 yards in 12 plays to score on Martin's 21-yard pass to Stallworth.
Martin hit Wilson for 14 yards on a third-and-10 to keep the drive going. Wilson, the Vols' top receiver, did not play in the second half after aggravating a hamstring strain. He also hurt his back.
The Vols scored first on Alex Walls' 24-yard field goal set up by Raynoch Thompson's interception of a tipped pass on Notre Dame's first possession.
Thompson was taken out of bounds at the Notre Dame 14 by Tony Fisher, the last man with a shot at him.
The Irish defense stuffed Martin on a quarterback draw on third down at their own 7, forcing the field goal.
Notre Dame blocked a second Tennessee field goal attempt later in the first quarter to keep it at 3-0.
The Tennessee defense returned the favor later in the quarter, holding the Irish without a point oa drive that reached the Vols 5 yard line. David Miller's field goal attempt sailed wide right.
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