Doubters fire up Clausen

Tennessee lost more than a ballgame when it fell 30-3 to Maryland in the Peach Bowl last December. The Vols also lost some national prestige.

Last preseason the Vols were pegged No. 4 nationally and rated a serious contender for the national title. But, coming off the Peach Bowl debacle, the Big Orange is in virtually no one's top 10 for 2003 ... and NO ONE is mentioning Tennessee as a national title contender.

All of which leaves quarterback Casey Clausen a little annoyed ... and a lot motivated.

''As far as I'm concerned, nobody respects us at all,'' he said during a Wednesday meeting with reporters outside UT's weight room. ''They think we're just kind of another typical team. That fires me up and it should fire my teammates up.

''We're still Tennessee. Seeing it (expectations) go from where it was to where it is now in one year should fire guys up and make us go out there and prove people wrong.''

Clausen suspects that the Vols' 8-5 season in 2002 not only cost them some respect among preseason forecasters but also among opposing teams.

''When a lot of teams look at Tennessee, the thing they remember is our last game against Maryland ... and that's not us,'' he said. ''Hopefully, that will motivate us.''

Tennessee struggled throughout the 2002 season but Clausen says he's ''excited'' about the prospects for 2003.

''The biggest thing is the competition for positions,'' he said. ''Everybody's trying to push themselves to become better players.''

The Vols' motto for 2002, ''Unfinished Business,'' proved to be a pipe dream. So, what's the motto for 2003?

''There's no motto or anything like that,'' Clausen said. ''Last year is a year I would like to forget. It's done with, so we've got to focus on this year.''

Asked about last year's problems, Clausen again tried to shift the emphasis from 2002 to 2003.

''Anytime you don't win things get magnified,'' he said. ''A lot of stuff happened last year. But last year is last year, and we're done with that. Hopefully, the attitude and the mindset of the guys is a lot better.''

Based on what he's seen this offseason, Clausen thinks the attitude is a lot better these days.

''Leadership is a lot more noticeable,'' he said. ''There's more than one or two guys saying things.''

Although injuries hindered his 2002 season and slowed his development, they didn't affect Clausen's level of confidence.

''I know what kind of player I am,'' he said. ''From where I was as a freshman to where I am as a senior, I'm 10 times better. Hopefully, we can go out and it will show on the field.''

Certainly, Clausen and his offensive teammates have much to prove in 2003. The Vol attack was largely unproductive a year ago. For that to change, Casey thinks the Vols need to hit more home runs and fewer singles this fall.

''I think the biggest thing we've got to do on offense is get the ball down the field,'' he said. ''That's probably the biggest strength that I have. The first two years (2000 and 2001) we were able to do that. Last year teams didn't respect us. Not being able to get the ball down the field not only hurts your passing game, it hurts your running game, as well.

''If people don't respect you going deep, they'll bring the safeties up five, six or seven yards and play the run first,'' Clausen said. ''Going into this year, nobody respects us going deep, so the biggest thing we've got to do is make the big play.''

After noting that even NFL teams have trouble sustaining a 12-play drive, Clausen added: ''We've got to have big-play capability. Instead of a 12-play drive, you need to have five or six. That's what we did my first two years.''


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