Vols turn Cotton Bowl into rout
Texas A&M commits five turnovers after giving the ball up only eight times all season.
Published January 2, 2005
DALLAS - The stands were filled with Texas A&M fans going bonkers when their beloved Aggies were on defense. They were so loud Tennessee quarterback Rick Clausen went up and down the line screaming out signals to make sure everyone heard him.
At least that's what it was like early, before the Volunteers gave the fans no reason to hurt their throats.
Looking nothing like the third-stringer he was most of the season, Clausen led No. 15 Tennessee to five touchdowns in just 21/2 quarters and the defense had its way with the 22nd-ranked Aggies in a 38-7 victory in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.
Winning was nice enough for the Vols (10-3) after losing their last two bowl games and four of the last five. Winning big was especially sweet after losing those last two by a total of 40 points and never leading in either game.
"Probably our best effort of the year," coach Phillip Fulmer called it.
The rout began when C.J. Fayton turned a short pass into a 57-yard touchdown on the game's seventh play. Tennessee surprised A&M by continuing to pass and the Vols defense stunned the Aggies (7-5) by producing five turnovers. A&M had just eight all season.
The Aggies expected the Vols to pound away with running backs Gerald Riggs Jr. and Cedric Houston. Instead, they turned to Clausen's arm and added to the confusion by using him in a variety of formations.
Clausen showed the poise and patience of a season leader, not a junior transfer who was beaten out by two freshmen and was playing only because they were both hurt.
He finished 18-of-27 for 222 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks. In addition to proving himself, he improved his family's bowl reputation: brother Casey went 1-3 as Tennessee's starting quarterback its last four bowl games, including a loss in the 2001 Cotton. Rick watched that game from the stands, just like Casey did this time.
Riggs followed his career-high 182 yards in the SEC title game with 102 and a touchdown on 18 carries. Houston ran 13 times for 62 yards, enough to make him and Riggs the first Tennessee teammates to have 1,000 yards in the same season. He also had a touchdown before leaving with a bruised thigh in the third quarter.
The Aggies were looking for a great ending to their big turnaround from last season's 4-8.
"We just had too many mistakes," said quarterback Reggie McNeal, who was 23-of-38 for 241 yards and a touchdown. He also threw an interception, just his fourth of the season, and was involved in two fumbles - a lost option pitch and a drop when hit by three defenders, one of whom ripped off McNeal's helmet.
A&M's first two turnovers came on consecutive snaps in the first quarter and the third came on a fumbled punt. They helped Tennessee stretch its quick 7-0 lead to 21-0 early in the second quarter. It was 28-0 at halftime.