DALLAS — The stands were filled with Texas A&M fans going bonkers when their beloved Aggies were on defense. They were so loud Tennessee quarterback Rick Clausen went up and down the line screaming out signals to make sure everyone heard him.
At least, that's what it was like early, before the Volunteers gave the fans no reason to hurt their throats.
Looking nothing like the third-stringer he was most of the season, Clausen led No. 15 Tennessee to five touchdowns in only 2 1/2 quarters and the defense had its way with the 22nd-ranked Aggies in a 38-7 victory in the Cotton Bowl on Saturday.
Winning was nice enough for the Volunteers 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 said.
It also was the most lopsided victory in the school's 45-game bowl history. The Volunteers (10-3) came within 5:13 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 Texas A&M by continuing to pass and the Volunteer defense stunned the Aggies (7-5) by producing five turnovers. Texas A&M had only eight all season.
The Aggies were looking for a great ending to their big turnaround from last season's 4-8. 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 completed 23 of 38 passes for 241 yards, with a touchdown and an interception.
Aggressive defense was part of Tennessee's game plan. The Vols were aiming for four turnovers and to be stingier than in their last three games, when they gave up between 31 and 38 points each time.
"We were talking the whole bowl preparation about a comeback, playing better, not giving up plays that would end up being the difference," Fulmer said. "I'm really proud of that."
Clausen showed the poise and patience of a leader. 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 in its last four bowl games, including a loss in the 2001 Cotton Bowl. Rick watched that game from the stands, just as Casey did this time.