DALLAS, Jan. 1 -- Looking nothing like the third-stringer he was most of the season, Tennessee quarterback Rick Clausen led the No. 15 Volunteers to five touchdowns in just 2 1/2 quarters and the defense had its way with 22nd-ranked Texas A&M in a 38-7 victory in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.
Winning was nice enough for the Vols 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.
It also was the most lopsided victory in the school's 45-game bowl history. The Volunteers (10-3) came within 5 minutes 13 seconds of their first bowl shutout since the last time they played the Aggies, in the 1957 Gator Bowl.
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.
"Go figure," Coach Dennis Franchione said.
The Aggies were looking for a great ending to their big turnaround from last season's 4-8 record. Instead, they got a reminder of last season -- their worst performance since a 77-0 loss to Oklahoma. It also was their fifth straight loss in the Cotton Bowl.
"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.
Clausen, on the other hand, 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.
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.
He humbly accepted the offensive MVP trophy. "My job is very simple: Get the ball in their hands," he said. "As long as I do that, good things happen."
Gerald Riggs Jr. followed his career-high 182 yards in the SEC championship game with 102 and a touchdown on 18 carries. Cedrick 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.