Tennessee Volunteers crush Texas A&M Aggies 38-7 in Cotton Bowl

Saturday, January 1st 2005, 3:29 pm
By: News On 6

DALLAS (AP) - Tennessee had enough of the blowout bowl losses. The Volunteers spent this New Year's Day watching the scoreboard spin in their favour.

Rick Clausen looked nothing like the third-stringer he was most of the season, leading No. 15 Tennessee to five touchdowns in just 2 1/2 quarters, and the defence had its way with No. 22 Texas A&M in a 38-7 victory in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.

The Volunteers (10-3) had lost four of their last five bowl games, the last two by a combined 40 points. After never leading in either of those games, they made things different just seven plays into this one when Clausen's short pass to C.J. Fayton turned into a 57-yard touchdown.

Tennessee wound up with the most lopsided victory in its 45-game bowl history. The Vols came within 5:13 of their first bowl shutout since the last time they played the Aggies, way back in the 1957 Gator Bowl.

Enduring the worst bowl loss in school history was a minor part of the disappointment for A&M (7-5). Coach Dennis Franchione was looking to cap his second-year turnaround with a big win. Instead, he's got eight months to dwell on the school's worst performance since a 77-0 loss to Oklahoma last fall.

The rout was as much a result of the Volunteers playing perfect football as it was the Aggies self-destructing. For instance, A&M lost only one fumble in its first seven games, but gave away four this time. Three came in the first half, helping Tennessee stretch its quick 7-0 lead to 21-0 early in the second quarter, forcing the Aggies out of their game plan.

The Vols' plan was excellent, especially on offence.

Instead of relying on the rushing of Gerald Riggs Jr. and Cedric Houston, Clausen came out firing from a variety of formations and showed the poise and patience of a seasoned leader, not a junior transfer who was beaten out by two freshmen and was playing only because they were both hurt.

Clausen was 18-of-27 for 222 yards with three touchdowns, no interceptions and no sacks. He also handled a hostile crowd of 75,704 - the game's largest since 1978, the vast majority dressed in A&M maroon - by scampering around the backfield to make sure everyone heard his audibles.

That was the case until he took the crowd out of it completely.

Tennessee gained 306 yards by halftime, even though two TD drives went just 28 and eight yards thanks to fumble recoveries. The Vols set another school bowl record with 32 first downs.

Riggs followed his career-high 182 yards in the SEC championship 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.

A&M trailed 28-0 at halftime, but had a chance to make it a game when Terrence Thomas ran 54 yards to the 15 on the opening drive of the third quarter. Then quarterback Reggie McNeal was tackled from behind on fourth-one from the six and the Aggies hardly threatened again.

They finally scored in the closing minutes on a five-yard pass to Earvin Taylor.

The Aggies have lost five straight Cotton Bowls, while the Volunteers improved to 3-3 in this game. They lost their last one in 2001, when Clausen's brother Casey was the starter.

It was the eighth time in coach Phillip Fulmer's tenure that Tennessee has won at least 10 games. This season was impressive because the team was filled with youth and set back by injuries. Next season, up to 18 starters could return.

Tennessee wore a small decal on the back of its helmets in memory of former star Reggie White, who died last week. It featured an orange cross with his jersey number, 92, in black across the centre.