Clausen laments lack of playmaker

There's nothing wrong with Tennessee's offense that having a playmaker at receiver wouldn't fix. So says Vol quarterback Casey Clausen.

''Look at last year,'' he said recently. ''The first half of the season we suffered some injuries (to receivers Donte' Stallworth and Eric Parker) and relied on the run. The second half of the season we got some guys back at receiver and we were balanced. The Mighigan game (a 45-17 Vol romp), they didn't have a clue what we were going to do.

''When it's tough for a defense is when you can run it as well as throw it. If you're one-dimensional, obviously, teams put a lot more emphasis on (stopping) that.''

The Vols were one-dimensional throughout 2002. Star wide receiver Kelley Washington missed the first two games with injuries. He returned to bolster the passing attack in Games 3, 4, 5 and 6 but the running game went south during that stretch as No. 1 tailback Cedric Houston was limited by injuries to six carries for 16 yards in Games 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 combined.

Meanwhile, Washington suffered a season-ending neck injury in the final minutes of Game 6. So, even though Houston rushed for better than 100 yards in Games 8, 9, 10 and 11, the Vols lacked enough of a passing attack to complement him.

''Once Kelley went down, that made it real difficult,'' Clausen confided. ''But I never imagined this.''

After Washington went down, so did Tennessee's passing totals. The Vols threw for just 163 yards in Game 7, 175 in Game 8, 77 in Game 9, 90 in Game 10, 129 in Game 11 and 175 in Game 12.

''Believe me, it's been a tough year, a frustrating year,'' Clausen said. ''The biggest thing is, we're limited in what we can do.''

Mainly, the Vols are limited by the absence of a quality wideout. Asked if he ever imagined so-called ''Wide Receiver U'' could find the cupboard so bare, Clausen shook his head.

''Nah,'' he said. ''The reason I came to Tennessee is because they recruit the best athletes from across the country. Before the season I thought we had a pretty good team. With myself, Jason (Witten) and Kelley, the offensive line coming back and the running back depth we have, I felt we had a really good offense.''

Despite Tennessee's weakness at the wideout spots, Clausen says he never altered his aggressive approach to the passing game.

''Not at all,'' he said. ''Against Kentucky, we were one-on-one outside eight times and I probably checked to the fade (route) seven times. I'm not going to stop doing what I do. We're going to find somebody who can get outside, beat somebody one-on-one in press coverage and make a play.''

Tennessee's search for somebody who can make a play in the passing game has been unsuccessful so far. Will the Vols find that person in their upcoming Peach Bowl date with Maryland?

''I hope so,'' Clausen said. ''We've been 12 games through the season, and I don't want to go 13 games.''v


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