KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee football legend Casey Clausen chuckled when asked about his success against Florida playing at The Swamp in Gainesville.
Of course, Clausen used to laugh about playing the Gators in their storied home environment during his playing career at Tennessee from 2000-03, too.
“It’s a piece of grass that’s 100 yards long with goal posts at both ends,” Clausen said in 2001, then a sophomore at UT on the verge of making his first road trip to Gainesville. “It’s not like we’re playing in the Super Bowl.”
Clausen’s comments came off as a tad cocky at the time, but he and his teammates backed it up, beating the then-No. 2-ranked Gators, 34-32, after entering the 2001 game as 17-point underdogs.
Many believe that loss broke Steve Spurrier’s back as the Gators’ coach, as Florida was on track to play for the national championship before tailback Travis Stephens trampled his football team for 226 yards.
Clausen and his family attended Tennessee’s 42-7 win against Indiana State on Saturday, and the former Vols quarterbacking great reflected on his success beating Florida on the road.
The ‘Ice Man’
Indeed, Clausen is the last Tennessee quarterback to beat the Gators in The Swamp, back in 2003.
“We knew going down there the emphasis our fans put on it, and even some of the coaches at the time, it was Florida week,” Clausen said. “But we really didn’t give a blank about who we were playing down there; we just went out and played ball.
“That was a unique thing about our teams; no matter where we were playing or what time of day, we were going to bring it, and we had a lot of fun down there in Gainesville.”
Clausen had fun in Tuscaloosa, too, beating Alabama both times he played in Bryant-Denny Stadium. He’s the last Tennessee quarterback to win there, too, 51-42 in a five-overtime classic in 2003.
But it was in his first career start, against Alabama, that he earned the “Ice Man” moniker that would stick with him throughout his career.
Clausen had his helmet ripped off at one point and continued to play, and later, he audibled from a run to a pass at the Alabama 3-yard line.
Veteran teammate Cedric Wilson told media after the game that checking off from a run to a pass inside the 5-yard line was a rarity for any Tennessee quarterback, much less a true freshman.
But for the next four years, that became a staple for Clausen, as the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder from suburban Los Angeles would check to a fade route any time he identified 1-on-1 coverage on the perimeter, regardless of the situation.
Clausen said he didn’t think twice about the audible against Alabama, first start or not.
“They loaded up the box, there were nine in there, cover zero and I had Ced 1-on-1 outside,” Clausen said. “We checked to a fade, which I Ioved throwing, and Ced made a great catch and made me look good.”
Casey Clausen now
Now in his fourth season as the coach at Calabasas High School in Southern California — where brother and fellow former UT QB Rick Clausen serves as offensive coordinator — Casey Clausen believes there’s no reason the 2017 Vols can’t get a win in Gainesville.
“I’m sure this team will get some good confidence this week,” Clausen said before kickoff of the Vols’ 42-7 win over Indiana State. “So, why not go down there and get a ‘W’?”
Clausen said he was “real impressed” with Quinten Dormady’s performance in Tennessee’s 42-41 double-overtime win against Georgia Tech last Monday.
“I thought Quinten really stepped up and even though he lost his top receiver, he came out and executed and showed a lot to bring the team back from 14 points down,” Clausen said. “As I told all the guys, a win is a win, we’ll take it and move on to the next one.”
Clausen was 15-1 on the road during his Tennessee career, with four of those wins coming at Alabama and Florida, and other victories at Notre Dame and at Miami, Fla.
“The more they [fans] jacked it up and got after us,” Clausen said of the Vols’ road games, “the better we played as a team, and the better I played.”
Clausen came to Tennessee as a mid-term enrollee amid a four-man quarterback competition. Talented sophomore Joey Mathews was No. 1 entering spring drills, and redshirt freshman A.J. Suggs was also ahead of Clausen and fellow incoming freshman John Rattay.
The Vols held open practices back then, and the scrimmages at Neyland Stadium were also accessible by the public. Thousands streamed in on April Saturdays, as word would spread quickly that Phillip Fulmer’s team was scrimmaging.
“The practices were always harder than the games for us on offense,” Clausen recalled. “Chief [John Chavis] always had great defenses; we were loaded.”
Mathews emerged the starter for the 2000 season, but then Suggs took over under center for key battles with Florida and Georgia. Finally, in the sixth game of the season, Clausen got his first start at Tennessee.
Advice for quarterbacks
Clausen remembers how hard it was to wait for his opportunity at quarterback, and it’s not a stretch to compare that to what current Vols’ redshirt freshman Jarrett Guarantano is going through right now as a celebrated recruit turned backup.
When asked what advice he would give a backup quarterback having a hard time with not playing, the coach in Clausen came out.
“Get better — coaches have a job and that’s to win games,” Clausen said. “If you’re not ready for whatever the reason, it could be mentally or physically, whatever, you have to get better.”
Indeed, Clausen’s father, Jim, said when his eldest son enrolled at Tennessee that he knew exactly what had been promised.
“Here’s the deal. Tennessee recruited Casey and will give him a chance to win the starting job here,” said Jim Clausen, a former college football coach himself, in the spring of 2000, “and if Casey wins the job, they are going to recruit another quarterback next year, and that kid will try to beat him out, and Phillip is going to play the best guy.
“That’s big-time college football; we’re not kidding ourselves, that’s just how it is.”
Not much has changed in that respect since Clausen was amassing the second-best passing statistics in Tennessee football history, behind only all-time great Peyton Manning.
“Coach [Butch] Jones knows what he’s doing here,” Casey Clausen said. “So, if you’re out there playing, do everything you can to continue to stay out there, and if you’re not out there, learn, get better and ask the coach what you have to do to get better.”
Clausen said he has two players on his Calabasas team that Tennessee has shown interest in, and he said he has taken notice of how Jones is accumulating talent.
“I think the competition here is getting better,” Clausen said. “They are getting the guys who want to come in and win championships, and I think we’re on the right track.”