Brandon Hoyte's tackle might have changed the course of the season for Notre Dame. It altered ninth-ranked Tennessee's outlook Saturday night.
Tennessee 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 happened tonight."
Ainge's injury came a week after Brent Schaeffer broke his collarbone.
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 again.
"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."
"Losing Erik was a real disappointment," said coach Phillip Fulmer, whose Vols are 7-2. "I thought Rick came in and competed. Whether it's Rick, Brent or Erik, people around him have to play well."