WHAT WE ARE HEARING: ORANGE BOWL PREVIEW & PREDICTION FOR NO.7 CLEMSON vs. NO.6 TENNESSEE
- 2022-12-30 14:15:17
Welcome to the Orange Bowl edition of What We Are Hearing!
It all comes down to this. Clemson fans are probably still thinking about what might have been if the Tigers hadn’t turned the ball over against the Gamecocks and lost by one point, keeping the Tigers out of the College Football Playoff, but if you had told me last summer that they would win the ACC and have a chance to finish 12-2 with an Orange Bowl win over a top-10 Tennessee team, I would take that in a heartbeat! That’s a fantastic season by anyone’s measure. The last time these two teams met, of course, was in the 2003 Peach Bowl, and I was in the stands on that New Year’s Eve as a young Clemson graduate. It was Dabo’s first year on the Clemson staff, and the Tigers won 27-14 over the Vols, which were coincidentally ranked No.6, just like they are now. However, the Tigers are the favorite this time around, and true freshman quarterback Cade Klubnik is poised to make his first career start after an MVP performance in the ACC Championship against UNC. The Orange Bowl appearance for Tennessee Head Coach Josh Heupel was when he was the Oklahoma QB and led the Sooners to a BCS National Championship win over FSU in 2000. The Orange Bowl is going to be filled with orange of different shades in primetime on Friday night, and Hard Rock Stadium is going to be rocking! On to the matchup…
Tennessee leads the all-time series with Clemson 11-6-2 but the Tigers won the last meeting and only neutral site game in the 2003 Peach Bowl…Clemson is 4-2 all-time in the Orange Bowl, beating Oklahoma in its last appearance in the 2015 CFP Semifinal. The Tigers also beat Ohio State in the Orange Bowl to finish the 2013 season. With another win, Clemson would join Oklahoma, Nebraska, Miami, Alabama and FSU as the only schools to win 5 Orange Bowls…Clemson is seeking a 12th win for the 7th time in program history. The Tigers would tie Alabama as the only programs to post six 12-win seasons since 2015…This will be Dabo’s 200th game as a head coach. He is seeking his 162nd win, which would tie him with Joe Paterno and Tom Osborne for third-most wins by a head coach in his first 200 games, trailing only Urban Meyer (170) and Gil Dobie (163). Dabo’s 161 wins are second-most by any coach in his first 15 seasons, and he will pass Urban Meyer for the record next season…Cade Klubnik will be the first Clemson QB to make his first start in a postseason game since Clemson abandoned the single-wing offense in 1953. Since 2002, Clemson quarterbacks are 9-2 in their first start, with wins by Whitehurst, Since 2022, Clemson quarterbacks are 9-2 in the first career starts with wins by Whitehurst, Proctor, Harper, Parker, Boyd, Watson, Bryant, Lawrence and Uiagalelei…Clemson is 26-22 in bowl games. A win would move Clemson into 9th on the all-time bowl win list. Ohio State can also win a 27th bowl game with a win over Georgia in the CFP Semifinal...Clemson is 10-4 in bowl games since 2012, including CFP games…Clemson has won at least one postseason game for 12 straight years, the longest streak since at least 1980. FSU did so for 11 straight years from 1985-95… Clemson has won 16 straight games in the month of December dating back to 2011. Alabama (13-0) and Penn State (7-0) are the only other teams undefeated in December since 2011…Clemson (4-0) has won at least 4 games against ranked teams for a 6th time in program history…Clemson is 100-12 since 2015. Alabama is the only other program to win 100 games over that span…This will be the Tigers’ 8th night game of the season, the 4th-most in program history. They are 46-8 in night games since 2015…Clemson is 48-10 in games away from home since 2015…Dabo is 33-16 in top-25 matchups. The Tigers are 27-6 in such meetings since 2015…Clemson seniors are 44-7 over the last 4 years, winning the third-most games over that span behind Alabama (45) and Georgia (45)…The seniors are the 11th Clemson senior class to win at least 3 ACC Championships…The Tigers completed their 9th perfect regular season record against ACC competition. It is just the 5th time the Tigers have won 8 ACC games in a season…Clemson has 488 sacks since 2012, most in the nation. The next-closest is Alabama at 439...Clemson is the only program in the nation to post at least 40 sacks every year of the CFP era…Clemson has the most tackles-for-loss since 2012 (1,266). Alabama is 2nd with 1,047… Dabo has won 161 games as a head coach. He took the sixth-fewest games (186) to reach 150 wins. Urban Meyer holds the record at 176 games, followed by Barry Switzer, Gil Dobie, Fielding Yost and Joe Paterno. Switzer and Paterno are the only ones who, like Dabo, won all 150 games at one school….Clemson has the second-most wins and second-best win percentage since 2015 behind Alabama. The Tigers are 100-12 over that period while Alabama is 102-10. Ohio State is 3rd with a record of 91-11 since 2015. Clemson is also 2nd in wins since 2011 with a record of 142-23. Alabama is 150-16 and Ohio State is 135-21….Clemson has the most Power Five wins (102) since 2013. Alabama is 2nd with 98 and Ohio State is 3rd with 95….Clemson holds the all-time record for most wins over a 5-year span with 69 from 2015-2019….Dabo Swinney has the best active win percentage in the nation (minimum 10 years) at .809. Nick Saban is second at .801, Kansas Head Coach Lance Leipold is 3rd (.737). Jimbo Fisher and Brian Kelly round out the top 5 on the active list….Dabo is currently 12th on the all-time win percentage list but climbing quickly. He’s just two spots below legendary Oklahoma Head Coach Bud Wilkinson, who Dabo could pass for 10th next season….Dabo’s 161st win passed Bob Stoops for second-most of any coach in his first 15 seasons, but Dabo is only in his 14th full season. Next season, Dabo should topple Urban Meyer’s record of 165 wins in his first 15 seasons….Dabo has the most active wins (161) with one school. Mike Gundy is 2nd with 156 at Oklahoma State. Dabo is 9th on the active head coach career win list, 5 more than Mike Gundy….With a win in the Cheez-It Bowl over Iowa State last season, Dabo tied Bobby Bowden for most bowl wins (11) by any ACC coach in history….Clemson has scored at least one rushing touchdown in 67 of 68 games since 2018, the best streak in the nation…Clemson is the only Power Five team with two tight ends that have 4 touchdowns each this season…BT Potter is tied with Nelson Welch for the Clemson career record of 72 field goals. In the ACC Championship, Potter became the first ACC player to score at least 100 points in 4 different seasons. Potter is tied with James Skalski, Will Spiers and Will Swinney for the most games played in Clemson history. He will make his 54th start on Friday, passing Chandler Catanzaro for the most starts by a place kicker in Clemson history…RB Will Shipley became the 23rd 1,000-yard rusher in Clemson history this season…WR Antonio Williams has the most catches (52) by a Clemson freshman since Artavis Scott (76) in 2014…
Like Clemson, the Vols fans are probably thinking about what could have been if they beat the Gamecocks, who cost them a spot in the playoff as well. They tragically lost their star quarterback and Heisman candidate Hendon Hooker with a torn ACL late in the game, but they rebounded with a 56-0 win at Vandy with senior backup QB Joe Milton, a Michigan transfer who grew up in the Miami area and will be making a homecoming start in the Orange Bowl with lots of family and friends in attendance. Milton played sparingly this season before the Hooker injury, and he was 11-21 for 147 yards with one touchdown pass and no interceptions. The Vols demonstrated that they don’t have to rely on the passing game to score lots of points, racking up 362 rushing yards in the Vandy game. The book on Milton is that he has a cannon for an arm but is not very accurate. At 6’5 and 245 pounds, he’s not a dynamic runner but is tough to bring down and can be effective on quarterback power runs. He has only run 7 times this season but averages 10.3 yards per attempt. He has 7 TD passes this season with no interceptions.
Milton will be without 2 of his most dangerous weapons at the receiver position, including Biletnikoff winner Jalin Hyatt, who is an Irmo, SC native and played high school ball with Clemson freshman WR Antonio Williams. He has opted out for the NFL Draft, as has WR Cedric Tillman. The two receivers combined for 104 catches for 1,684 yards and 18 touchdowns, which is a huge percentage of their production in the passing game this season. The Vols will have to rely on Bru McCoy (#15), a 6’3, 220-pound junior, who has 48 catches for 619 yards and 3 TD’s this season. They have another big WR in 6’3, 195-pound senior Ramel Keyton (#80), a Marietta, GA native who has 27 catches and 4 TD’s, averaging an impressive 18 yards per catch. 6’1, 195-pound sophomore Walker Merrill (#19) has just 8 catches this season, but 3 of them have gone for scores. Senior Princeton Fant (#88) is a 6’2, 235-pound tight end with 20 catches and 3 TD’s this season.
The Vols have a dual running back combo in Jaylen Wright (#20) and Jabari Small (#2). Wright is 5’11, 200-pounder who averages 5.8 yards per rush with 10 TD’s this season. He had a monster game in his last outing at Vandy, rushing for 160 yards and 2 TD’s on just 5 carries. He had just 28 yards on 6 carries in the previous game at South Carolina. Small is a 5’11, 213-pound junior who averages 4.8 yards per carry with 12 TD’s this season. He also scored 2 TD’s at Vandy and averaged 7.2 yards per rush. He has scored 4 TD’s in their last 3 games and has 12 catches and 2 TD’s in the passing game. Freshman Dylan Sampson (#24) is 5’11 and 190 pounds. He only has 58 carries this season but averages 6.8 yards per rush with 6 TD’s.
Defensively, the Vols have DE Byron Young (#6), a 6’3, 245-pound senior from Georgetown, SC. He leads the team with 5 sacks. Senior DE Roman Harrison (#30) is second on the team with 3 sacks. Senior Atlanta native DB Trevon Flowers (#1) and junior DB Kamal Hadden (#5) have 2 interceptions apiece and have combined for 3 forced fumbles. Senior LB Aaron Beasley (#24) leads the team in tackles with 64, along with a sack and a fumble recovery.
Senior kicker Chase McGrath is 15-19 on field goals this season. He has only attempted 2 kicks over 50 yards this season, making one from 51.
Tennessee is ranked No.1 in scoring offense (47.3 points per game), No.3 in passing offense (332.3 yards/game), No.19 in rushing offense (205.75 yards/game) and No.1 in total offense (538.1 yards/game). The Vols are No.43 in scoring defense (23.5 points per game), No.19 in rush defense (111.75 yard/game), No.126 in pass defense (287 yards/game) and No.84 in total defense (398.8 yards/game). They are tied for No.64 in sacks (27) but they are tied for No.24 in tackles-for-loss (86). They have gained 20 turnovers, which is ranked 38th, and have lost just 11 turnovers, which ranks them 14th in turnover margin per game at +0.75. They have just 9 interceptions this season, which is tied for 77th. Surprisingly, the Vols’ 3rd down offense is ranked just 34th, converting 43.14 percent of the time. Clemson has the advantage in that offensive category at 48.70 percent, which is 9th nationally. The Vols’ 3rd down defense is ranked No.29, allowing conversions 34.12 percent of the time. Their red zone offense is ranked No.6, scoring on 93.65% of their trips with a 79.37 TD rate, which leads the nation. The Tigers’ defense has not been as stout in the red zone as they have been in the past, allowing TD’s 54.76 percent of the time, which ranks 37th. The Vols’ red zone defense is ranked No.22, allowing scores on 77.08% of trips.
Up until now, Clemson might have been the only program without a single opt out in a bowl game, but it has finally happened. DE Myles Murphy, a top-10 overall prospect in the NFL Draft, announced that he will not play in the Orange Bowl. LB Trenton Simpson would not have played due to injury, but he also announced that he will enter the draft. Remarkably, the Tigers didn’t have a single player opt out of the mediocre Cheez-It Bowl last season. DT Bryan Bresee is a top-10 NFL prospect, but he will play in the Orange Bowl along with NFL prospects KJ Henry, Tyler Davis, Davis Allen and Joseph Ngata. TE Davis Allen announced that he will not return to Clemson next season, but we will have to wait and see over the next couple of weeks to find out what the others decide to do. KJ Henry has hinted that he is seriously considering returning to Clemson and is trying to persuade his teammates on the defensive line to join him. I reported a couple weeks ago, that Henry, Davis and Bresee might make a pact similar to what we saw from Wilkins, Ferrell and Bryant when they all decided to return to Clemson in 2018 for a national championship. As for the Orange Bowl, they will all be suiting up, and the Tigers are in great shape from an injury standpoint. CB Sheridan Jones has been dealing with a hip flexor, however, and Dabo said that he will be a game time decision.
Obviously, all eyes will be on true freshman Cade Klubnik making his first career start in the hopes he will replicate his performance from the ACC Championship. He is a poised, confident competitor who is used to the spotlight from playing championship high school football in the state of Texas, and I don’t expect the stage to be too big for him. Brandon Streeter did an excellent job of adapting the play calling to Cade’s skill set in the ACC Championship, and he got a lot of help from fellow true freshman WR Cole Turner. The Tigers had been saving Turner all season in order to keep his red shirt, but he had a coming out party in Charlotte and figures to play a prominent role in the passing game on Friday night. The Tigers are in good shape at the receiver position with the emergence of Turner on top of fellow freshman Antonio Williams, Ngata and Brannon Spector, who has come on at the end of the season. Of course, it would be nice to have Beaux Collins, but his season ended with a dislocated shoulder. Perhaps this will be a breakout game for freshman Adam Randall! Of course, Cade also has the reliable hands of tight ends Davis Allen and Jake Briningstool in the passing game. On the defensive side, with LB Trenton Simpson out, freshman Wade Woodaz will make his first career start at the SAM/Nickel spot. He has been solid all season.
Interestingly, the Tigers have their option of uniforms, and Dabo said a couple weeks ago that they will wear the white jerseys with the orange britches. The latter is no surprise, but in the past, they have always gone all orange when given the option. After the ACC Championship, I texted Dabo and told him that they had not lost in the white/orange combo since their overtime loss at FSU in 2014, so maybe that influenced his decision. The Tigers have won several huge games in the white/orange combo over the years, including both national championship wins over Alabama (they wore all orange in the two losses to Bama), the CFP Semifinal win over Ohio State in 2019, the 2013 Orange Bowl win over Ohio State and several ACC Championship wins, including the last one and the blowout over Notre Dame in 2020. Incidentally, they also wore the combo when they upset No.6 Tennessee in the 2003 Peach Bowl, their last meeting with the Vols, and the 63-17 win at South Carolina in the game before that! We’ll see if the Tigers continue their win streak in the white and orange.
This would be a much more compelling game if Hendon Hooker and Jalin Hyatt were playing for Tennessee. While they still have plenty of offensive firepower, as evidenced by their last game at Vandy, they will be more reliant on the running game, and that is right in the Tigers’ wheel house. Josh Heupel and the Vols love to go fast tempo on offense, and I don’t expect that to change, but the Tigers have one of the best run defenses in the nation, notwithstanding the Notre Dame debacle. In addition, Nate Wiggins had been improving ever since his miserable game at Wake, and he had a career night in the ACC Championship with a record-setting pick-six, a blocked field goal and two PBU’s in the end zone. His confidence is through the roof right now, and confidence is paramount at the corner position. And, of course, he won’t have to worry about covering Hyatt or Tillman.
On the other side of the ball, Tennessee has one of the worst pass defenses in the nation. There are only 5 teams in the FBS that are worse, and that bodes well for Cade and the Tigers’ passing game. Brandon Streeter should have the entire play book at his disposal and mix a good balance of play action passing with heavy doses of Shipley and Mafah in the run game. Look for a little trickery as well from both sides, like we saw on the pass from Mafah to Klubnik in the ACC Championship.
The Tigers are favored by 4.5 points, but I don’t see how the Vols will be able to rely on the run game like they did at Vandy. This will be the best defense they will have faced other than Georgia, which shut down the Vols even with Hooker and Hyatt. It should be an electric environment with a sea of orange split 50/50, but those in the darker orange will be the last in the stands for this one! Make it a 5th Orange Bowl win for the Tigers and a 3rd for Dabo, as the Tigers finish 12-2 with a spring board into a 2023 national title campaign….
CLEMSON 38 Tennessee 20
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