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Tennessee Shrugs Off Slow Start To Rout Syracuse, 33-9
Clausen completed 14 of 27 passes for 136 yards.

Clausen completed 14 of 27 passes for 136 yards.

Sept 1, 2001

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By ELIZABETH A. DAVIS
AP Sports Writer

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer thought the Volunteers might have gotten off to too good of a start for their own good with a touchdown on their first offensive play.

"Sometimes that's a blessing and sometimes that's a curse to get off to that kind of start," Fulmer said.

Casey Clausen connected with Donte Stallworth on a 37-yard touchdown pass less than two minutes into game, but the No. 8 Vols' offense struggled for most of the game en route to a 33-9 season-opening victory over Syracuse on Saturday.

"Seven points I guess is a blessing," Fulmer said "But we lost some of what we were trying to do focus-wise there for a little bit. Execution wasn't good for 2{ quarters."

John Henderson, Tennessee's star defensive tackle who chose another year of college instead of an early trip to the NFL, gave the Vols a much needed boost in the third quarter.

With Tennessee ahead 12-3 despite an anemic offense, Syracuse (0-2) turned the ball over when the snap sailed over the head of Troy Nunes, who chased it 31 yards toward the Vols' end zone. Henderson was right behind him and recovered it at the Syracuse 5.

Travis Stephens, a fifth-year senior and last year's backup to Travis Henry, pushed through the line from 4 yards out for the touchdown to put Tennessee ahead 19-3 with 5:53 to go in the quarter.

Stephens, who has been plagued with injuries and lost starting jobs to Jamal Lewis and Henry, finished with a career-high 111 yards on 14 carries, including long runs of 40 and 34 yards. It was the most he had handled the ball since rushing for 107 yards against Georgia in 1998.

"I just want to make the best of my opportunities," he said.

 

 

"Travis won't say much," Fulmer interrupted. "But this kid worked in practice for a purpose to prove he can play every down at this level. I'm really proud of him."

With Tennessee ahead 19-3 with 6:35 to go and the game pretty much decided, the teams scored three touchdowns in 30 seconds.

Stephens' backup, Corey Larkins, scored twice on TD runs of 38 and 16 yards. Johnnie Morant caught a 74-yard touchdown pass from Syracuse backup quarterback, R.J. Anderson.

Clausen looked anything but spectacular in his second season after taking over in mid-season last year and leading the Vols to sixth straight wins in the regular season. He was 14-of-27 for 136 yards and connected with Stallworth just two more times after the TD.

"If we have games like this all year with that part of the offense, I'll be bald before the end of the season," Fulmer said. "I couldn't believe some of the things that happened."

Aside from the late offensive spurt, defense ruled the day for both teams.

"I don't think the score is indicative of how well our defense played," Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "Coming in here, we knew we had to play a nearly mistake-free game."

Quentin Harris intercepted Clausen on the Vols' third possession in the game. Tennessee's Rashad Baker returned the favor, picking off Nunes three plays later. Neither offense could cash in those turnovers for points.

Syracuse defensive end Dwight Freeney extended his sack streak to 10 games, getting at Clausen twice.

"I thought we came out focused and the crowd was out of the game," Freeney said. "We have the whole season ahead of us, and who's to say we can't win them all?"

Nunes had just as tough a day as Clausen. Constantin Ritzman gave Tennessee a 9-0 lead when he tackled Nunes in the end zone for a safety. Alex Walls' 24-yard field goal put Tennessee ahead 12-0 before halftime.

Nunes, who is right-handed, left the field at the beginning of the fourth quarter, after chipping his left wrist bone when he was tackled. He returned to the field with the arm heavily wrapped but didn't play the rest of the game.

Syracuse's defense gave its offense a chance at the beginning of the second half to cut the lead. Will Hunter batted the ball away from Clausen, and Freeney recovered it at the Tennessee 5.

On fourth down, the Orangemen settled for Justin Sujansky's 22-yard field goal to make it 12-3 with 8:22 to go in the third quarter.

The Vols have won six straight home openers by at least 24 points. The Orangemen started the season with two losses for the first time since 1996.

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