Jones returned five punts for 120 yards, including a 58-yarder for a touchdown, as Tennessee hammered Vanderbilt 48-0 Saturday at Neyland Stadium. He also returned an interception 51 yards to set up another TD and led all Big Orange receivers with three catches for 45 yards.
''He's incredible,'' head coach Phillip Fulmer said. ''Whether you're playing badminton, volleyball or a pickup football game, he's the guy you'd want to pick first.''
Center Scott Wells added a hearty amen to that.
''He's an outstanding athlete,'' the senior captain said. ''Any team would be fortunate to have him. He understands the game fully and is able to do just about anything.''
Whereas Jones went out with a bang, senior quarterback Casey Clausen went out with a bang, a record and an ovation. Clausen completed 15 of 29 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns. He also extended his streak of consecutive passes without an interception to 142 (breaking Peyton Manning's school record of 132).
''Peyton may not like me saying this, but I'm glad Casey got the record,'' Fulmer said. ''Hopefully, we'll recruit somebody to break it someday.''
Clausen played just one snap in the fourth quarter, then was summoned to the sidelines so 100,000 appreciative fans could give him a warm ovation in recognition of his four years as the starting QB.
''That was wonderful and well deserved,'' Fulmer said. ''He's been special here. He's much of the reason we've been successful.''
Asked what he said to Clausen when he reached the sidelines, Fulmer replied: ''I said, 'I love you, Casey.' He said 'I love you, Coach, but we've got two more (games).' That's Casey.''
Fulmer said his team, now 5-2 in SEC play and 9-2 overall thanks to a five-game winning streak, is ''on the upward mobility side of the ledger. The last few weeks I think we could compete with anybody in the country.''
The team's turnaround can be traced to senior leadership that Fulmer described as ''incredible, especially from Casey. I have great admiration for him. We're going to miss him a lot. Of course, we've still got a little business left.''
The reference, of course, is to next Saturday's game at Kentucky and a probable New Year's Day bowl game.
''I do believe we're capable of being a BCS team,'' Fulmer said.
A bid to a BCS bowl appears unlikely, however. Tennessee probably will settle for a berth in either the Capital One Bowl (formerly the Florida Citrus) or the Outback Bowl. Ohio State and Purdue are the most likely opponents.
As for the game with Vandy, it wasn't much of a contest. Tennessee scored five touchdowns and two field goals on its first nine offensive possessions. These, coupled with Jones' punt return, gave the Vols a 48-0 lead with 8:20 left in the third quarter. Fulmer called off the dogs at this point, figuring the poll voters should be duly impressed.
''If 48 to nothing's not convincing enough,'' the head man said, ''I don't know what is.''
Tennessee dominated statistically, as well as on the scoreboard. The Vols passed for 290 yards and ran for another 162, outgaining Vanderbilt 452 to 191 in total yardage. They converted eight of 14 third-down opportunities, returned seven punts for 134 yards and two interceptions for 89 yards.
Vandy threatened to score just one time, advancing to Tennessee's 26-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Antwan Stewart intercepted a Jay Cutler pass at the 3-yard line, however, and returned it 38 yards to preserve the shutout and bring a big smile to the face of UT defensive coordinator John ''Chief'' Chavis.
''Chief thrives on that,'' safety Gibril Wilson said of the shutout. ''That's a big confidence booster for next week.''
The offense should have some confidence, too, after scoring 107 points in its last two games (59 vs. Mississippi State, 48 vs. Vandy).
''I think we basically were clicking on all cylinders,'' Wells said. ''We executed the passing game to its fullest potential. Casey made some excellent throws, and the receivers made some big plays.''
Clausen said the Vols didn't do anything special. They just did things better than usual.
''It was the regular stuff we always do,'' he said. ''The biggest difference the past three or four or five games is we've executed. We haven't made mistakes, haven't turned the ball over and haven't had penalties. And when we've had the opportunity to make plays, we've made plays.''
The Vols made a glut of plays on this day. Clausen hit Tony Brown with a 35-yard pass on Tennessee's first scrimmage play and later capped the drive with a 16-yard TD pass to Brown. Clausen found James Banks for 17 yards, C.J. Fayton for 22 and Mark Jones for 13 on the next TD drive, which ended with a two-yard run by Jabari Davis.
Jones' punt return made it 21-0 late in the first quarter. A 40-yard run by Corey Larkins set up a 39-yard field goal by James Wilhoit that widened the gap to 24-0 early in the second quarter. Clausen found Bret Smith for 16 yards and Chris Hannon for 38 and a touchdown as the lead swelled to 31-0.
Shortly after Jones returned his interception to the Vanderbilt 7-yard line, Clausen scored on a fourth-down sneak as the gap spread to 38-0. A 16-yard completion from Clausen to Jayson Swain set up Wilhoit's second field goal, a 41-yarder that widened the gap to 41-0 at halftime. Wilhoit now has hit nine of his last 10 tries.
Tennessee's final scoring drive was of the ''pound the rock'' variety -- 87 yards in 15 plays -- but it still featured a couple of big plays. Clausen found Jones on a 15-yard pass and Gerald Riggs, Jr., rambled 17 yards. A seven-yard TD pass from Clausen to Derrick Tinsley closed the drive and the scoring.
All in all, it was a pretty impressive offensive performance.
''I think the confidence, especially on offense, has really picked up,'' Clausen said. ''We're trying to get back to being a dynamic offense that can come out and put points on the board early, make our plays throwing the ball.''