Archive for the 'Rick Clausen' Category

Re-living the Tennessee Volunteers 2005 football season: Part 10, the Memphis Tigers

Friday, August 4th, 2006


By the time the Memphis game rolled around, the 2005 Volunteer football team, which had just lost four games in a row, was drawing comparisons to the 1988 team that started the season 0-6. Even the Tigers from the other end of the state, who hated the Volunteers with a passion normally reserved for rival Ole Miss, were smelling blood.

Fortunately for the Vols, history was dressed in orange, even under these circumstances:

”As we approached the game site, fans of the Memphis State Tigers lined the street and chanted “Oh-and-six! Oh-and-six! Oh-and-six!” The Vols limped into that ’88 game with an 0-6 record, so MSU’s players and fans were drooling at the prospect of posting their first win in series history. UT had won the previous 11 meetings but this Tennessee team appeared terribly vulnerable. The defense was so bad that coordinator Ken Donahue had resigned one game earlier.”

Vol fans chanted “Oh-and-twelve!” after beating the Tigers 38-25.

Surely even the reeling Vols could beat a three touchdown underdog starting a 4th string quarterback and playing without their Heisman-contending running back in Neyland Stadium.

Couldn’t they?

The game

They almost couldn’t. Erik Ainge got the start and played his worst game since LSU. His first pass was almost intercepted. His third pass was intercepted and returned 37 yards to the UT 25. His fourth pass was intercepted but was nullified by a roughing the passer penalty against Memphis. Barely into the second quarter, Memphis was ahead 13-0.

In came Rick Clausen, who once again ralled the team. On Clausen’s second series, actually connected with wide receiver Josh Briscoe for a 39-yard touchdown pass. On his next series, he led the team on a ten-play, 94-yard drive and capped it off with another touchdown pass, this one to C.J. Fayton.

Clausen guided the team to victory, going 14 of 24 for 209 yards.

Even the special teams got into the action, contributing a 36-yard punt return by Jonathan Hefney.


So the special teams and wide receivers had improved, and the four-game, six-week losing streak had ended, but the quarterback controversy had reared its ugly head again.

John Pennington on Tennessee Volunteer Quarterback Erik Ainge:

I have said for a couple of weeks that UT should turn the season over to Erik Ainge. “Ainge has more upside.” “Ainge will be back next year.” “If UT doesn’t want another QB controversy next year, they’d better see as much of Ainge as they can between now and the end of the season.”

Well, as Gilda Radner used to say, “Nevermind.”

All of the reasons for playing Ainge still hold true. Except for the last one. The coaches, after just 4 passes vs Memphis (and an almost carbon copy of his LSU start) should have already seen enough of Ainge to know what they’re dealing with:

A very fundamentally-flawed headcase.

Poor decisions come with 19-year-old QBs who’ve only started and completed 2 games. That’s part of growing up. Not every Vol QB is going to have Peyton Manning’s learning curve.

But terrible fundamentals on top of the mental errors can’t be accepted. A dumb pass might just be a dumb pass if it’s thrown well. A dumb pass thrown by someone who no longer even tries to set his feet… well, that’s death.

Of Ainge’s 4 passes vs Memphis, three times he failed to set his feet before throwing the ball (this includes the non-interception that was brought back due to a questionable “roughing the passer” call). On the other pass, the long, floating duck-like INT, Ainge had someone laying at his feet. So he couldn’t step into the pass. Rather than realizing this, he relied on that big arm of his and shotput a ball 25 yards down field.

Jimmy Hyams says UT must play Rick Clausen, not only in order to win, but to help Ainge recover:

So now what do you do if you’re Fulmer?

You hand the keys to Clausen. He has proven he can beat mediocre teams like Vanderbilt and Kentucky. He did it last year. He did it against Memphis.
You shut down Ainge. If you’ve got the shanks, stay away from the golf course for a few weeks or a few months. Don’t destroy Ainge’s confidence any longer.

Let your new offensive coordinator try to dig Ainge out of his dilemma.

But don’t let Ainge continue to bury himself, his confidence and his team.

But Pennington believes that Clausen won’t be able to beat Vanderbilt or Kentucky unless they’re dumb enough to blitz him.

Indeed, what do you do if you’re Fulmer?

Prepare for Vandy.

Poll results: 55% of VFRT readers believe Ainge should have been The Starter last season

Wednesday, July 26th, 2006

All right, I’m finally retiring the Who Should Have Been the quarterback Last Year poll. Pretty hilarious results, if you ask me. Even a year of hindsight later, and fans still can agree on which QB to play. Ainge got 55%, and Clausen got 45%. Me, I voted for Clausen, just because of his leadership and because his numbers were better. Still, that vote, and all of the criticism Ainge is getting from me on my Re-living the Tennessee Volunteers 2005 Football Season Series, does not mean I’m not confident that Cutcliffe and Ainge will get the QB situation turned around this year. Ainge has a few little things to correct, and if he does, he’ll be just fine. Perhaps even great.

Re-living the Tennessee Volunteers 2005 football season: Part 4, LSU and the Rally in the Valley

Thursday, July 20th, 2006


What a horrendous back-to-backer. After suffering an agonizing defeat at the hands of the No. 10 Gators in the Swamp, the Vols had to travel to Baton Rouge to take on No. 3 LSU. A daunting task under any circumstances, the situation was complicated immensely by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Baton Rouge is roughly 80 miles from New Orleans and had been serving as a refugee camp for Hurricane Katrina victims. LSU had postponed its first home game and played its second scheduled home game at the visiting team’s stadium. For various reasons, the Tigers wanted to keep the LSU-Tennessee game scheduled for 7:45 p.m. on Saturday night, but there was no place for UT players or fans to stay in or around Baton Rouge.

While some fans whined about the situation, the UT administration did not. Instead, the team geared up to play at the scheduled time and made plans to fly to Baton Rouge the day of the game and fly out immediately afterwards. UT fans would just have to eat their tickets and watch on t.v.

Then came Hurricane Rita, which looked like it might impact Baton Rouge, and even though LSU reportedly did not want to reschedule the game, Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton held his ground, saying that he would not send his team into a hurricane zone when everyone else was leaving. The game was eventually rescheduled for the following Monday night.

On paper, the Volunteers were taking on the LSU Tigers, but it was more like the Tennessee Volunteers against the world:

  • The LSU Fans. Due to Hurricane Katrina, this will be the Tigers’ first homegame of the season, and the usually crazed LSU fans, who always have it cranked up to 11 at home games anyway, will come absolutely unhinged Saturday night. Folks, this one goes to 12.
  • The Nation.Again, thanks to Hurricane Katrina, the nation will be pulling for LSU. A small pocket of Vol fans in East Tennessee seek to kick a man while he’s down. Nobody but the kicker appreciates that.
  • Themselves. And speaking of kickers, well, let’s just say the Vols have some work to do in this area. Tennessee has been its own worst enemy in its first two games. An uncomfortable win over Alabama-Birmingham was marred by dropped passes, and special teams goofs were the proximate cause of last week’s loss to the Florida Gators. The Vols must find their rhythm if they are to have any chance of victory at Baton Rouge this weekend.
  • Rhythm.And aren’t the segue’s working nicely this morning? The Vols have yet to find their rhythm this season, primarily due to choosing to rotate quarterbacks Rick Clausen and Erik Ainge. Ainge played well the first two drives of the UAB game and had his rhythm broken when Clausen, who played well for most of the rest of the game, rotated in. The Vols arguably made the same mistake in reverse against Florida, yanking Clausen after two drives before sticking with Ainge. The receivers dropped several passes the first game, and Ainge said he and the receivers couldn’t get in sync against Florida. Enter Hurricane Katrina, which has displaced practically the entire population of New Orleans and the surrounding areas. Thousands have sought refuge in Baton Rouge, increasing its population by 50%. No hotels are available for the football team Friday night, and so the Vols are flying into Louisiana on game day instead. A minor inconvenience compared to the displaced populace to be sure, but definitely not good news for a team seeking to find its stride.
  • Hurricane Rita. Katrina’s little sister is bearing down on Texas, and Baton Rouge expects some ancillary action in the form of rain. Lots of it. Word Association Game: what do you think of when you hear the phrase “Volunteer Football” and the word “rain?” One nightmarish game in Neyland Stadium against the Gators, mmmm?

This Week on ESPN: the Sputtering Tennessee Volunteers attempt to kick a man while he’s down in full view of his rabid fans and a sympathetic nation.

Go Vols!

The game

The game itself was an instant classic, at least from the Volunteers’ perspective, as my 3,831-word, almost-live post on the game would suggest. The gist of the post is “We are horrible! We stink! Ugh. We really, really, really, really stink. What were you thinking? Oh, man are we horrible. Hey. We scored. Woo-hoo. Whatever. Hey, we scored again! Interception for a touchdown, we’re only down 3! Field Goal!! OVERTIME! OVERTIME!! OVERTIME!!! Go Riggs. Riggs! Riggs!! Riggs!!! Touchdown!!!! The greatest game ever played! Rick Clausen is king!”

Or something like that.

Here’s a look at the pinnacle of futility that was the first half:

NOTE: A larger version can be found at the Animated Drive Chart page.

Just look at all of those orange segmented lines. What is that, a total of 80 yards or so? UT went into the game dead-set against employing the dreaded QB Rotation Scheme. We were sticking with Erik Ainge come hell or high water. But . . . well, let’s just summarize the offensive output in the first half:

Fumble. Punt. Punt. Punt, punt, punt. Another punt. An LSU interception for a touchdown. Fumble. Punt.

Two fumbles, an interception, and seven punts. Wow. And the half included one of the worst moments in UT football history, with UT at its own one-yard line:

Ainge under center. The center snaps the ball, and Ainge runs backwards and pivots to look for receivers, but instead finds a blitzing LSU linebacker bearing down on him in the end zone threatening a two-point safety. Ainge spins and inexplicably, incomprehensably, inconceivably, unfathomably tosses the ball underhand toward the crowd of players who are standing around at the line of scrimmage. The ball sails just over the heads of the UT offensive linemen and into the arms of an LSU defender, who catches it and sprints three yards into the end zone for a six point TD. Ainge is slammed into the ground and hits the goal post head first in the process.

Rick Clausen, who had started his career at LSU and who had been allowed to leave because they thought he just wasn’t good enough to play in the SEC, came in on the next series and played the rest of the way. Clausen’s entry into the game was met with boos from the hostile crowd, and commentator Bob Davie said that Clausen just didn’t have the “wow” factor that Ainge had. Uh, good “wow,” or bad “wow,” Bob?

Anyway, Clausen led the team down the field on his first series, but they again stopped themselves when running back Gerald Riggs fumbled. They gained zero yards on the next offensive series and got a gigantic break when LSU mismanaged the clock on its final drive, allowing time to expire with the team on the six yard line without even attempting a field goal.

NOTE: A larger version can be found at the Animated Drive Chart page.

The second half marked one of the greatest comebacks in the history of college football. Touchdown. Punt. Touchdown, you’re-not-good-enough-to-play-in-Death-Valley, underdog quarterback Rick Clausen. A Volunteer interception to the three yard line leading to another touchdown. Great defense the entire half. Field goal to tie and send the game to overtime, which is where we’ll pick up my game-time post:

UT wins the toss and elects to defend first.

Addai runs up the middle for a first down on the first play, half of it running backwards. A run to the right goes for one or two yards. With Mahelona executing a ten-yard running dive for Russell’s ankles while being held the whole time, Russell throws incomplete to a screen man on the other side of the field. On 3rd and 10, Russell throws incomplete into the end zone.

LSU runs its field goal unit into position. The snap is good. The hold is good. The kick is . . . wide left, but hooking, hooking . . . just inside the right upright. It’s good.

LSU 27, UT 24.

Clausen and the Vols take the field. Clausen dumps the ball off to Riggs on the right side, who stiff arms one defender, bounces off another, and gets a first down.

Clausen in the shotgun . . . draw play to Riggs to the left for another 6 yards.

2nd and 3. Clausen under center, hands off to Riggs, who barrels straight ahead for a first down before four Tigers wrap him up and take him down.

First and goal for UT. Clausen under center. Riggs up the middle, pushing, pushing, stopped one foot from the goal line.

Second and goal. Wouldn’t it be sweet if Clausen scored the winning touchdown on a quarterback sneak? They try it, but Clausen’s stood up, and he gets nowhere.

Okay, so not that sweet. Let’s give it back to Riggs, shall we?

3rd and goal at the one. Clausen under center. The center hikes the ball. Clausen pivots left, and sticks the ball in Riggs’ gut. Riggs follows Corey Anderson’s block through the left side of the line. Riggs is met at the one-yard line by an LSU linebacker, but he’s got momentum, strength, and leverage, and he lifts the defender and pushes through and by him, powering into the end zone.

For a touchdown.

And a win.

The LSU crowd is stunned silent.

Riggs kneels in jubilation.

Rick Clausen tries to maintain his California cool, but can’t help smiling.

Rick Clausen — The Rudy of the New Millennium, Nobody’s All-American — told by former LSU coach Nick Saban that he was not good enough to play in the SEC and told by UT coach Phillip Fulmer that he was not good enough to start for the Vols, came off the bench after starting quarterback Erik Ainge’s train wreck of a half to lead one of the greatest comebacks in Tennessee football history. Down 21-0 at halftime and 24-7 going into the 4th quarter, Clausen and the Vols beat all odds, finally finding an offensive rhythm after two and a half games and kicking a team while it was down in full view of its rabid fans and a sympathetic nation.


Rocky Top was buzzing Tuesday morning after everyone who had gone to bed at halftime realized they’d missed one of the best moments in UT football history. Where did this one rank? On Tuesday, many were saying that it was one of the five best wins in the entire history of the Volunteers, right up there with games like the Tennessee v. Florida State 1998 national championship game, 1998 UT-Florida, 2001 UT-Florida, 1998 UT-Arkansas and other legendary games.

Had the Vols gone on to have a good season, the Rally in the Valley would have been remembered as one of the greatest games of all time. Unfortunately, it’s now bound to be remembered as the sole highlight of The Year of Which We Do Not Speak.

The Ole Miss review is up next, and due to other obligations, will probably be posted Saturday instead of tomorrow. Thanks for reading.

Read the next installment of this series: Re-living the Tennessee Volunteers 2005 football season: Part 5, Ole Miss Rebels.

Case Study: Two Quarterback Systems and the 2005 Tennessee Volunteers

Wednesday, June 28th, 2006

Greetings to Burnt Orange Nation readers. If you’ve already read my guest post over at BON, scroll on down for the continuation. For all the rest of ya, you can just start here.

Many thanks to Peter, who was kind enough to grant me some time at the esteemed BON podium to voice some thoughts on two quarterback systems from the perspective of the Unburnt Orange Nation. Perhaps y’all were too busy enjoying your undefeated season last year, but I’m guessing that you probably also noticed the other UT’s agonizing, season-long descent into oblivion.

The Tennessee post-mortem is ongoing, but it’s pretty clear that one of the primary factors in our season of futility was our inability to settle on a single starting quarterback. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reliving the agony by reviewing last season’s VFRT posts and the articles to which they linked. Out of that sadistic exercise emerged several principles that I feel a need to disseminate as a public service to others in the college football blogosphere.

First up is a list of Rules Governing the Employment of 2QB Systems. Next are the Early Warning Signs, a list of symptoms indicating a vulnerability to full-blown onset of that debilitating condition known as the Quarterback Controversy. After that comes a summary of how these Rules and Signs played out on Rocky Top in 2005.

Rules Governing the Employment of 2QB Systems

  1. The Rule Against 2QB Systems. With only two exceptions, 2QB systems should be avoided like the bird flu.
  2. The Evaluation Period Exception. A 2QB system may be temporarily necessary to evaluate the available talent in game situations to determine which QB should be the long term starter. The evaluation period should be as short as possible and should under no circumstances last longer than four or five games.
  3. The Epinephrine Exception. Use of two QBs may be desirable on rare occasions when a starter is having a bad game and the team needs a change of pace and a kick in the britches.
  4. The Waffle Exception to the Epinephrine Exception. You only get one shot of epi, and it should only be used with well-established starters whose confidence will not be shattered by the substitution. Beware of the temptation to use it with recent winners of a quarterback duel. If you absolutely must change your mind once a “final” decision has been made on a duel, YOU CANNOT DO IT AGAIN. If you yank your first “final answer” QB because he’s melted down, he’ll no longer be a viable option, so stick with his replacement as long as he’s anywhere in the vicinity of competent.

Early Warning Signs

If your team exhibits any of the following symptoms, do like Chicken Little and sound the alarm:

  • The Sideline Captain. Beware of captains on sidelines. In other words, do not underestimate the power of leadership and experience, and do not overestimate the promise of potential.
  • The Early Success. Beware of early success using multiple QBs. It only delays the inevitable.
  • The Rotation Scheme. Beware of pre-planned rotation schemes. Getting a backup reps in a game is all well and good, see e.g., D.J. Shockley, but pre-game plans to rotate QBs must be subject to change. Do not commit to any systematic rotation of QBs, whether every other play, every other series, or every X number of series. Never break game rhythm by pulling a QB when he’s hot. A team employing a rotation scheme is not only splitting game reps between two players, but is also surely splitting practice reps, which, instead of preparing both players for games, merely stunts the growth of both.

As you’ll see below, the 2005 Volunteers had all of the warning signs. Sophomore Erik Ainge started the first game while team captain Rick Clausen stood on the sideline. The coaching staff insisted on utilizing a Rotation Scheme “until one of them took the job,” probably based on the Early Success they had with such a scheme during the Evaluation Period the prior season with Ainge and Brent Schaeffer.

In 2005, though, the Evaluation Period Exception was again instituted, but neither Ainge nor Clausen really “took” the job in either of the first two games. Still, the coaches initially did not allow the evaluation to drag on, and they named Ainge “the starter” in the third game of the season against LSU. Unfortunately, Ainge morphed into a mushroom cloud in LSU’s end zone, and Clausen gave the team a much-needed shot of epi. The team then made another mistake by over-waffling, and when Clausen struggled a bit, they went back to the ruined Ainge, ruining Clausen as well.


Case Study: Two Quarterback Systems and the 2005 Tennessee Volunteers


Poll: Who should have been “the” starter at QB last year?

Friday, June 23rd, 2006

Knowing what we know now, who would you have started at QB last year? There seems to be a consensus that the Volunteers would have been better off if the coaches would have simply made up their collective minds, named one of the quarterbacks the starter, and stuck with him all season.

But which one? That’s the question that plagued the coaches and divided the fans and the team all season last year. I’m not at all sure that the question was ever answered. Clausen’s numbers were better, and Ainge certainly, well, picture a mushroom cloud, but would Ainge have been better if he didn’t have to worry about the competition?

What do you think? Assuming picking and sticking with one would have been better than season-long indecision, and knowing what we know now, who should have been our quarterback? Rick Clausen or Erik Ainge?

McDaniel Sued, Foster Recovering, Clausen Hired

Friday, January 13th, 2006 (subscription required) is reporting this morning that:

Gator Blog EDSBS: Tennessee Volunteers Win Award for Most Disappointing Team in College Football

Tuesday, December 20th, 2005

Florida Gator blog Every Day Should Be Saturday has an excellent year-end award post. WARNING: Some serious Netnanny violations here. My computer was tsk-tsking the whole time I was laughing.

The first installment consists of a list of . . . let’s see . . . paraphrasing here . . . what-in-the-world-happened awards. The Tennessee Volunteers top the list:

Should win the national . . . award for disappointment, blown expectations, and squandered talent on a single 1-A squad. For sum total dysfunction, no team rivaled the toxicity of the Knoxville crew: an off-season straight from the scenes of The Program, top 5 preseason rankings combined with the coach’s very public high expectations for the team, and a mismanaged qb rotation between Casey Rick Clausen and Eric Ainge that became the locus for a season-long offensive catastrophe.

EDSBS said it was so bad that even to Gators fans, “it brought little joy to see the flaming shambles that this program had become by the end of the season.”



Tennessee Volunteer Reciver C.J. Fayton Speaks Out about the 2005 Quarterback Controversy

Thursday, December 8th, 2005

Dave Hooker and Jeff Jacoby recently interviewed former Tennessee Volunteer wide receiver C.J. Fayton. Some snippets:

I do think the chemistry was a problem this year with the offense. Especially just with the offense. It’s kind of hard going back from quarterback to quarterback. Who’s going to start this game? Who’s going to start that game, to really get in a rhythm. When Rick was in the game, everything just seemed to flow a little bit better. That was obvious from spring to the offseason to the fall workouts. Ainge went in there and started the season off and everything just wasn’t right.

* * * *

You had half the team wanting to go with this guy and half the team thinking that we should go with this guy. Coach Fulmer had to make the decision. That’s what he gets paid for and that’s what he did.

* * * *

I don’t think [it]‘s fair (to say that players harder for the quarterback of their choice). I think we played hard for whoever’s in the game because we all want to win the game. But I think when Rick was in the game, the offense just flowed a little bit better and everything just seemed to go a lot smoother. Rick’s attitude and mentality is so much different from Ainge. He was more laid back, and I think he relaxed a lot of people in the huddle. His personality really came out on the field.

* * * *

Having somebody like Rick over your shoulder doesn’t help at all. I think [Ainge] was just in a tough situation.

We told [Ainge], “We believe in you. We know you can get it done. Just make the plays you’re used to making.”

I think next year he’ll be a lot better by it just being his show. It’s his job to lose.

Tennessee Volunteer Players Behaving Badly?

Monday, November 21st, 2005

From GoVolsXtra:

In the frustration after the Vols’ failed last play – an end-zone interception by Vanderbilt – several UT players appeared to throw their helmets on the ground. A number of players went to the locker room leaving their helmets on the field.

Offensive lineman Albert Toeaina reportedly spit on a Jumbotron cameraman as he left the field. The cameraman, Scott Liston, told WBIR-TV’s Steve Phillips on Sunday that Fulmer had called him to apologize for the incident.

John Pennington has more:

Nearly as bad as Helmet-gate was the amount of jawing, talking and showboating that UT’s 4-6 players did during the Vandy game. Several times, UT defenders ran their mouths to Vandy’s Cutler following defensive stops. But for the day, Cutler was 27 of 39 for 315 yards and 3 touchdowns and he recorded the first signature win of his career. Guess who laughed last.

Two UT defensive players also popped off to Vandy (and former Knox Central) running back Cassen Jackson-Garrison as the teams made their way to the lockerrooms at halftime. Jackson-Garrison responded by pointing to the 21-14 lead on the Neyland Stadium scoreboard.

My guess? This was the first time that a Vandy player had been able to say “scoreboard” to a Tennessee player since the game clocks went from analog to digital.

Prior to the 4th and a foot at Vandy’s 4, several of UT’s offensive linemen were seen bobbing their heads and gesturing for the Vols to go for the first down. It was more than energy and enthusiasm… it was #####. And as I noted earlier, it was misplaced ######### since the O-Line could [sic] blow Vandy off the line of scrimmage.

Lastly, after the disappointing loss, the popping off, the mid-season “we’re not a .500 football team” promises, the numerous Clausen quotes… in the end, only 5 people associated with the Vol team came out to speak to the media after the game: Phillip Fulmer (who gets paid to do it), John Chavis (good for him), and players Foster, Mahelona and Jason Mitchell (who had played all season on a torn ACL and a torn MCL).

I echo Pennington’s praise of Chavis, Foster, Mitchell, and Mahelona, who said the helmet thing was evidence of a lack of maturity.

UPDATE: GoVolsXtra is now reporting that Toeaina spit on the ground, not on the cameraman. They have video. Toeaina is suspended for Saturday’s game against the Kentucky Wildcats, though, for inappropriate conduct, which apparently consists of throwing his helmet after the loss, leaving it on the field, and yelling an expletive at the cameraman.

Toeaina has apologized:

“I apologize, to all concerned, for my conduct after the Vanderbilt game,” Toeaina said. “It was done out of anger and frustration. It is not reflective of what I have been taught by my family or my coach. I would like to thank coach Fulmer for the opportunity to be a part of the Tennessee Volunteers.”

Senior Day for the Tennessee Volunteers

Saturday, November 19th, 2005

It’s Senior Day at Neyland Stadium as 27 Tennessee Volunteer football seniors will run through the T for the final time.

Here they are:

Starters on Defense

Starters on Offense

Other Seniors

  • Jon Catanzano
  • Peter Chang
  • Ryan Fusco
  • Bill Martin
  • Adam Miles
  • Jon Poe
  • Lester Ransom
  • Justin Reed
  • Kevin Shipley
  • Sam Wantland
  • Robert Williams
  • Nick Wilson