Slow starts hounding Vols

Since posting a touchdown on its first possession of the season in Game 1 vs. Fresno State, Tennessee has not scored a first-quarter point since. Quarterback Casey Clausen is looking to reverse this alarming trend Saturday night in Game 4 against visiting South Carolina.

''We've got to come out focused and start early,'' he said. ''I don't think people understand how big it is to come out and start fast. Whether it's running the ball or throwing the ball, just coming out and putting points on the board puts the pressure on them (defenders).''

The Vols were particularly inept in the early stages of last Saturday's game at Florida. The only time they reached the ''Orange Area'' in the first half came on a Hail Mary pass on the second quarter's final play.

''Our play offensively, obviously, was not very good in the first half against Florida,'' Clausen grumbled. ''The score was 7-3 but it very easily could've been 21-0, Florida. We didn't do our part offensively.''

Clausen was so angry that he lit into his teammates at halftime.

''The first half I was pretty upset,'' he conceded. ''We wanted to establish some things, set the tone early, and we really didn't do that. I was upset because the way we played put the defense in such a bind. It seemed like every third down we had was third-and-10.''

Clausen's harsh words must've worked. Tennessee's offense proved much more efficient in the final two quarters.

''We came out for the second half and just played,'' he recalled. ''We didn't care about who we were playing or where; we just came out and played. We mixed it up a little better on first and second down and made some plays.''

Although Tennessee's passing game is better than a year ago, it still isn't clicking the way it did in 2001. Asked what the air attack needs to reach its potential, Clausen answered without hesitation.

''Growth,'' he said. ''You can't compare it to 2001 just because of the guys we had out there (Donte' Stallworth, Kelley Washington, Jason Witten). The guys we have now, in a couple of years, I think you'll see that (level of productivity). The biggest thing is consistency. We've got to come out and try to get in a rhythm.''

When Clausen had Stallworth and Washington at his disposal, the deep ball was a big part of Tennessee's offensive arsenal. The past two years, however, the Vols have relied more on the short and intermediate passing game.

''When teams tried to pressure us in the past, we'd check (to a bomb) and hit 'em big for a touchdown,'' Clausen said. ''We're trying to get back to that. When teams try to pressure us or man us up (play man-to-man coverage) outside, we've got to take advantage of that.''

In short, Clausen says there's nothing wrong with Tennessee's passing game that can't be fixed. He believes more deep throws would loosen up defenses and open up more offensive opportunities.

''It's just a matter of us hitting our plays,'' he said. ''We didn't throw the ball downfield much last Saturday. We hit the one pass to Bret (a 57-yarder to Bret Smith) and the Hail Mary (to James Banks) but that was it as far as getting the ball down the field.

''One of my strengths is throwing the ball vertically. I feel every game, whether you hit 'em or not, you need to attempt four of five (deep balls) just to get the defense back on their heels.''

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