Casey Clausen wasn’t Peyton. Casey Clausen wasn’t Tee Martin. Casey Clausen was a California kid that was the spitting image of Val Kilmer’s IceMan from TopGun that got thrown into the SEC fire halfway through his freshman season and led the 2-3 Volunteers to 6 straight wins and an appearance in the Cotton Bowl. Clausen was a road warrior who boasted an unprecedented 14-1 road record including key wins twice in Gainesville, twice in Tuscaloosa, South Bend and Miami. Clausen has been forgotten by many Vols fans because his numbers weren’t gaudy, he followed the “Golden Child” Peyton Manning and the “National Champion” Tee Martin and because his postseason career was a disappointing 1-3. After a few recent sub .500 seasons, I think it’s important to look back at the legacy of a quarterback who many people didn’t appreciate at the time and may have forgotten about in the present.
Most Volunteer fans took the early 2000’s for granted and looking back it’s important to understand that Tennessee was at the forefront of college football. The thought of losing seasons at this time was unthinkable and unimaginable. So with this said the quarterback position in Knoxville held much pressure and responsibility. Therefore, handing the job to a freshman during a 2-3 start of the 2000 season seemed like a disastrous situation gone worse. Clausen made his first start against Alabama as a true freshman. Alabama of 2000 wasn’t the Alabama of today; however, the Crimson Tide is still the Crimson Tide. The Vols won out the rest of the 2000 regular season and was matched with Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl. Clausen was voted to the Freshman All-American team and Freshman All-SEC. The postseason was unkind, to say the least, to Clausen and the Vols during his tenure at quarterback. In four years, the Volunteers were outscored 92 to 38 in their 3 bowl game losses. This may be the ultimate blemish on Clausen’s legacy as a Volunteer alongside a SEC Championship loss to LSU in 2001.
In 2001, Clausen led the Vols to 4 fourth quarter comebacks on the road against Florida, Alabama, Kentucky, and Arkansas. The win against Florida was the last regular season game Steve Spurrier ever coached in the Swamp(for the Gators), which is a win the Vol faithful still brag about today. Personally the most memorable win of the Clausen years came in 2001 against Notre Dame in South Bend. Clausen, who was not known for his scrambling, found the endzone in peculiar diving somersault fashion amidst Irish defenders (see video below at 11:00 and also notice the all white “Storm Trooper” uniforms in all their glory). The Vols were upset in the SEC Championship by an upstart LSU team, who ultimately started their current rise to prominence that year. From that point LSU’s stock rose and UT’s fell. The 2001 team beat down Michigan 45-17 in the Citrus Bowl, but should have accomplished more with the talent they had that season. John Henderson, Albert Haynesworth, Will Overstreet, Kelly Washington, Donté Stallworth, and Jason Witten were just the beginning of the depth and talent the team had during this era. 2001 was the peak of the mountain that the Volunteers are currently trying to get back on top of.
The 2002 season brought the Vols back to reality. The Vols were dominated by the Gators on a rainy day in Knoxville in early September as well as losing back to back against UGA and Alabama. Tennessee scheduled the powerhouse Miami Hurricanes for a showdown in Knoxville, where the Vols were outscored 26-3 at home. The back half of that year’s schedule was forgiving; however, an embarrassing 30-3 loss to Maryland in the Peach Bowl had many supporters pessimistic about the future of the team. The losses that season were lopsided which was uncharacteristic of a Phil Fulmer team. The Vols were held to 14 or fewer points in each of the 5 losses in the 2002 season. On the bench behind Clausen were two exciting quarterback prospects of the future CJ Leak and James Banks which many believed should have seen playing time over the Junior quarterback. Leak and Banks were flashy, explosive players which was a trend many schools recruited for after observing Virginia Tech and Michael Vick’s success in the late 90’s early 00’s.
Clausen’s senior season was marked by signature wins at Alabama, Florida and Miami. By the end of his career as playcaller for the Big Orange, Clausen won more games on the road than any other quarterback in Tennessee history. No road win was more impressive than the 10-6 victory over the powerhouse Hurricanes in South Florida. The Hurricanes were held to their lowest point total of the season by the Vols and later on went to beat the Florida State Seminoles in that year’s Orange Bowl. The Hurricanes stars of that year included Devin Hester, Frank Gore, Kellen Winslow, Jonathan Vilma, Vince Wilfork, and DJ Williams. The Vols finished with a 10-3 overall record, but came up short in the Peach Bowl against an underdog Clemson team. Clausen finished his senior campaign with nearly 3,000 yards passing and 27 touchdowns.
At the end of the day, Casey Clausen’s stats aren’t going to knock your socks off and his postseason record was something that many fans are trying to forget about. However, his 9707 career passing yards and 75 touchdowns put him second among Volunteer passers. Clausen also never threw for more than 9 interceptions in a season which adds to his undervalued legacy. Whether it was his California style or his awkward pocket presence, fans during his tenure in Knoxville were unappreciative because he had the daunting task of following two quarterbacks who have streets named after them on campus. Clausen won’t be remembered in the same light as Manning; however, the numbers don’t show a big difference in performance. Clausen will always have one leg up on Peyton. He beat Florida….twice.