Vols Look To Clausen To Lead Offense

Casey Clausen will be a Heisman candidate if Tennessee challenges for the National Title as many experts think they will. The senior quarterback out of Northridge, California, will be expected to have a big season if the Volunteers are to rebound from a dissapointing 8-5 mark in 2002 and return to the top of the Southeeastern Conference standings. One hope for the Herd is UT may be looking ahead to a SEC showdown coming up with Florida, but they will have an open week before tackling the Gators.

The two winningest coaches in Division I-A football will get together on September 6 when Bob Pruett brings his Thundering Herd of Marshall into a first-ever meeting with Phillip Fulmer and the Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville. Among coaches that have coached at least five seasons, Pruett is first in winning percentage with a record of 81-13 (.860) over seven seasons. Fulmer ranks second with a record of 104-25 (.805) in 11 seasons of directing the Vols. Fulmer's 104 wins rank him 12th all-time among Division I-A coaches.

Tennessee opened up Saturday with the expected win over Fresno State, 24-6. Quarterback Casey Clausen threw for 159 yards and two scores, although he did have two interceptions. Cedric Houston led UT in rushing with 161 yards, as the Vols gained 274 yards on the ground, topping any game last season when UT only topped 200-plus rushing twice. Tennessee took the opening kickoff and drove 76 yards in eight plays, ending with a Clausen to James Banks, nine-yard touchdown pass. Fresno State, without starting qb Paul Pinegar who missed with injury, could generate very little offense. Their only score came on a Richard Marshall 81-yard pass interception of Clausen for touchdown, with Tennessee already up 24-0 in the fourth quarter. Backup Jeff Grady passed for 118 yards on 13 of 24, but the Bulldogs had minus-one yards rushing on 24 carries.

Let's look at the University of Tennessee Volunteers (and you can hum "Rocky Top" to yourself while reading):

The leader of the Volunteers offense is Casey Clausen. The 6-4, 225 pound senior is on his way to becoming Tennessee's most prolific passer of all time, throwing for over 6.700 yards, 48 touchdowns, 22 interceptions and completing 63 percent of his passes since his freshman season in 2000. Clausen was slowed by ankle and shoulder problems in 2002, missing the Georgia and Mississippi State games, and had five of 11 games with 175 yards passing or less. James Banks, who had five catches for 35 yards and a score at receiver against Fresno State, and C.J. Leak are Clausen's backups.

The running game will be in the hands, or feet, Houston, who missed parts of 2002 season. He had 161 yards rushing on 19 carries against Fresno in the opener. The 6-0, 215 junior led the team with 779 yards on the ground (5.1 yards per carry), including 149 verses Mississippi State and three other one hundred-plus games in 2002. Also in running mix are Gerald Riggs (6-0, 220) and Jabari Davis (6-0, 225; 44 yards and a score verses Fresno), who led the team with 10 rushing scores and had 569 yards. Fullback Troy Fleming (6-2, 230) rushed only 34 times for 162 yards but is valued as a terrific blocker.

"Wide Receiver U.," as Tennessee has been known in past campaigns, is reloading for 2003. Derrick Tinsley (6-0, 195) was moved from tailback and may help at receiver, catching 20 passes last year out of the backfield. Mark Jones started verses Fresno after he was moved from the secondary in the spring. Starter Tony Brown (6-2, 200), who caught 39 balls in 2002, continued to shine with seven catches for 80 yards and the first score of the season for UT in the opener. Tight ends include Victor McClure (6-4, 290 who will start and is used mostly as a blocker), Aaron Kirkland (6-4, 250) and Jake Finlayson (6-5, 260).

On the offensive line, the name everyone recognizes is Michael Munoz (6-6, 305), the son of former National Football League great Anthony, who looks for his best season yet at left tackle after returning last season from knee surgery. Senior Sean Young (6-7, 310) had eight starts in 23 games played in 2002 and started opposite Munoz. At center, senior Scott Wells (6-2, 300) has 37 starts in 38 games since 2000. The guard positions will see Chavis Smith (6-3, 300), a former defensive tackle, and returning starter Anthony Herrera (6-4, 305). The offensive line allowed 41 sacks in 13 games last year, just over three per game, and must reduce that number to keep Clausen healthy.

Coming on Thursday, a look at the Tennessee defense: big, strong and fast would just scratch the surface of talking about the Vols on "D".

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