Tennessee staked their claim as the dominant shade of orange with a decisive win over Clemson on Friday night in the Orange Bowl. The Vols capped an improbable comeback season. Tennessee reached 11 wins for the first time since 2001. Tennessee was also ranked number one in the nation for the first time since 2001. And the Vols dispatched three of the previous four national champions (LSU, Alabama, and Clemson) during the 2022 campaign.
Vols Beat Clemson to Claim Orange Bowl
The game was closer than the score reflected. Clemson repeatedly drove the ball effectively on offense until they got inside the Tennessee 30-yard. But mistakes and costly errors prevented the Tigers from building any momentum, especially in the first half.
Early Clemson Errors
On the first drive of the game, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney elected to attempt a fake Field Goal deep inside Tennessee territory. The Tigers, rather than take an early lead, gave the ball back to Tennessee who subsequently scored their first touchdown of the game. Clemson kicker B.T. Potter would go on to miss three field goals in the first half. While Swinney commented that field goals would not beat Tennessee, they would have absolutely changed the dynamic of this game.
And on the last drive of the first half, freshman quarterback Cade Klubnik teamed with the coaching staff to run out the clock, again deep inside Tennessee territory, and miss an opportunity to at least get a field goal. With Clemson getting the ball first in the second half, that was another absolute momentum killer for the Tigers.
The freshman was 30-for-54 for 320 yards on the night but threw two interceptions in the fourth. He was actually most effective on the ground, with 20 rushes for 51 yards and Clemson’s only touchdown. That includes several critical third-down conversions.
A Surprising Tennessee Defense
Tennessee’s defense did exactly what they had to do: bend but not break. The Vols allowed 484 yards of offense, had a handful of pass interference penalties and gave up 31 first downs. In the end, the only statistic that mattered was the 14 points allowed on the scoreboard. Some questionable Clemson play-calling assisted their success. Will Shipley led a rushing attack that gained 164 yards, but Clemson completely went away from the run game in a long stretched in the first half and in the second half of the fourth quarter, only down by two scores.
Helped by a compressed field and Clemson’s calls, Tennessee’s defense buckled down inside their own 30. Aaron Beasley had a monster game for the Vols, with 12 tackles, 4 tackles-for-loss (TFL), 2 sacks, and one pass defended. While Joe Milton III was a worthy choice for game MVP, Beasley likely had the biggest impact on Tennessee winning the game.
Tennessee Fill-Ins Step Up
Tennessee was playing without a bevy of players due to injury and opt-outs. Jalin Hyatt, Cedric Tillman, and Jeremy Banks all opted out of the game while Heisman favorite Hendon Hooker’s season was ended due to injury in Week 11. However, Tennessee had players step up across the board on Friday night.
Milton was named game MVP after a very efficient 19-for-28 for 251 yards and three touchdowns. More importantly, he did not have a single turnover in the game. Beasley took over Banks’ attacking assignments on the defense. And Bru McCoy, Squirrel White, and Ramel Keyton all stepped up in the receiving corps and had a productive night. One of the big questions coming into this game was how Tennessee would fare with some much roster churn in four weeks.
Not only was that answered on Friday night, but Tennessee fans should feel good about next season with the performances by the fill-ins in Miami.
The Last Word
These were two teams coming in from different directions. Those trajectories held true in Hard Rock Stadium. Clemson continues to show signs of dynastic decay. Meanwhile, Tennessee shows signs that 2022 wasn’t a fluke and that the Vols will continue to be a threat next season. Josh Heupel‘s squad came in and made fewer mistakes against a team that’s been on the national stage for several years. That should not be overlooked.
The Orange Bowl may have capped off the 2022 season for both of these teams, but it also set the stage for the future for both Clemson and Tennessee. And for one team in orange, that is definitely a good thing.