"It's fun," Clausen said on the Vol post-game radio show.
Life hasn't been much fun for Clausen lately. He started Game 2 at Florida but was benched after throwing just five first-half passes. He began Monday night's game on the bench, as well, but took over when starter Erik Ainge was injured just shy of halftime. Assuming a 21-0 deficit, Clausen calmly and methodically brought the Vols back from oblivion.
"I guess that's why you stay the course; that's why perseverance pays off," he said. "I'm just so thankful for the guys in this locker room ‘cause those are the guys that kept me into it. There were times when I felt like giving up.
"When the decision (to start Ainge vs. LSU) came down, I was upset about it. I didn't understand it at all but the guys in the locker room, my family and friends kept me level-headed. I stayed the course because of them. If it wasn't for them, I probably wouldn't be here right now."
Clausen finished Monday's game 21 of 32 passing for 196 yards and a touchdown. He wasn't the Vols' only hero, however. There were plenty of those – Bret Smith, Robert Meachem, Jonathan Hefney, James Wilhoit and Gerald Riggs, for instance.
Smith gathered in an eight-yard pass from Clausen as UT pulled within 21-7 early in the third quarter.
Meachem had a 25-yard catch/run that set up a Clausen sneak as Tennessee closed to 24-14 in the fourth quarter.
Hefney intercepted a JaMarcus Russell pass three plays later and returned it 23 yards to the Tiger 2-yard line, setting up a Riggs TD run that narrowed the gap to 24-21 with 7:15 left in the final quarter.
Wilhoit forced the overtime by calmly nailing a 28-yard field with 2:02 left in the fourth period.
After a 31-yard field goal gave the homestanding Tigers a 27-24 lead on the first possession of overtime, the Vols turned to Riggs on their possession. Clausen hit him for 10 yards on Tennessee's first play, then handed him the ball on runs of 7, 5 and 2 yards to the one-foot line. Clausen was stuffed on a quarterback sneak, leaving Tennessee facing third and goal.
Taking the handoff, Riggs ran head-on into LSU linebacker Cameron Vaughn two feet shy of the goal line but drove him backward into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.
Riggs accounted for all 25 of Tennessee's overtime yards – 15 rushing, 10 receiving – and finished the evening with 24 carries for 89 yards. C.J. Fayton was the Vols' top receiver, catching eight balls for 61 yards. Chris Hannon added six catches for 55 yards. Prior to his injury, Ainge completed 7 of 19 passes for 54 yards.
Tennessee appeared on the verge of a lopsided loss as LSU dominated the opening half. The Tigers' Jessie Daniels stripped Ainge on the Vols' third offensive play, and LSU teammate Kenneth Hollis recovered at the UT 19-yard line. Joseph Addai sped 19 yards around left end on the Tigers' first offensive snap, giving LSU a quick 7-0 lead and giving Tiger fans a reason to roar.
LSU boosted the lead to 14-0 early in the second quarter, bolting 70 yards in just four plays. Addai burst 21 yards on the first play of the drive, then Russell found Craig Davis with a 47-yard pass off a flea-flicker play to the Vol 2-yard line. Russell scored on a sneak two plays later.
With Tennessee's offense self-destructing via penalties and dropped passes, Ainge lost his composure. As he was being slung to the turf in his end zone for an apparent safety, he blindly flung the ball upfield. Hollis intercepted at the 3-yard line and stepped across the goal line, boosting the Tiger lead to 21-0.
Ainge injured his back on the play and would not return to action. That may have been the worst thing that happened to LSU all night. Clausen replaced Ainge and promptly engineered one of the greatest comebacks in Vol history.
Tennessee now stands 5-1 in overtime games. Ironically, the Vols' only OT loss occurred at Tiger Stadium in 2000, when LSU prevailed 38-31.
The Vols, 2-1 overall and 1-1 in SEC play, host Ole Miss Saturday at 12:30.