This article was copied from the Times-Picayune Sports Desk Log.
Clausen lit a fire under Tennessee
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
By Peter Finney

The first half belonged to Bo Pelini.

The game belonged to Rick Clausen.

In the final 30 minutes, as Clausen, LSU’s gift to the Tennessee Vols, began throwing strike after strike, you could almost see the blood drain from Les Miles, not to mention the 91,986 on hand to welcome the start of a new football era.

For anyone with no rooting interest, this was a great story.

A quarterback who started one game during his only season in purple and gold came out of the bullpen to turn Tiger Stadium into the largest funeral parlor in the U.S.

It was as if Rick Clausen spotted his former team a 21-0 lead, then dinked the Tigers to a slow death, with one stab wound after another, on the way to a 30-27 overtime victory.

For the home team, it was torture.

For the winning quarterback, it was kismet.

This was really a story in two parts, two halves actually.

When Hurricane Katrina forced the Tigers to play Les Miles’ opening game as LSU coach at Arizona State, and Miles’ team responded with a dramatic 34-31 win, the thrill of victory was tempered by a defense that gave up 560 yards, the biggest chunk in the air.

Bo Pelini, the defensive coordinator Miles brought in to handle the defense, was a man on the spot.

Could the Tigers defend more effectively against a Tennessee team in the hands of “super sophomore’’ Erik Ainge?

For 30 minutes, Pelini’s defense was close to outstanding, pressuring Ainge, forcing him into bad decisions, eventually chasing him to the bench when he went brain dead and threw an interception to give LSU a three-touchdown lead.

It all began when cornerback Jesse Daniels ran down Ainge from behind and forced a fumble. After one play, a 19-yard run by Joe Addai, it was 7-0.

In was 14-0 in the second quarter when the Tigers went 70 yards in four plays. And it was 21-0 when Ainge was pressured in the end zone and threw a wild interception into the hands of linebacker Ken Hollis.

For Tennessee, it was the turning point of the game.

In came Rick Clausen and, eventually, out came your latest purple-and-gold suicide kits.

Clausen, whose lone start at LSU was a brief one against Ole Miss in 2002, not only fueled life into a dormant offense, he lit a fire under a Tennessee defense that began pressuring JaMarcus Russell into errant throws and bad decisions.

In the second half, Clausen got an assist from a Tiger defense that kept breaking down with a series of mental errors. Had wide open receivers not dropped a pass here, a pass there, Tennessee could have won this one in regulation, not sudden death.

It was anything but a memorable evening for JaMarcus Russell, after his dramatic game-winning, four-down throw against Arizona State.

In the first half, Russell killed a drive with a fumble at the Vols 30. In the fourth quarter, he threw an interception that quickly cut LSU’s lead to three-points, in this case, an obvious death knell.

Could blowing a 21-point lead be any kind of death knell for a devastated Les Miles?

Of course not.

Miles has blown leads before, every coach has, that is, if he’s been around long enough.

Yes, Bo Pelini’s defense is still a problem.

And, yes, an offense in the hands of Miles and coordinator Jimbo Fisher needs some kind of confidence boost after second-half miseries.

Just as football is a 60-miniute game, the SEC is not a one-game season.

For the moment, though, Rick Clausen, who has been in and out of the starting lineup throughout his college career, had one game Saturday, it happened to be a 30-minute game, to last him a lifetime.