Orange Bowl Preview: Tennessee vs. Clemson

Orange Bowl Preview: Tennessee vs. Clemson

No. 6 Tennessee Vols vs. No. 7 Clemson Tigers

Line: Clemson -6

Total: 63.5

Where: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida

When: Friday, 12/30 at 8:00 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

A pair of teams with fitting color schemes will square off in the Orange Bowl on Friday night in Miami.

No. 6 Tennessee and No. 7 Clemson are both missing key players heading into this matchup, including their respective (former) starting quarterbacks. Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker suffered a season-ending knee injury in a loss to South Carolina that knocked the Vols out of the College Football Playoff picture, while Clemson’s DJ Uiagalelei entered the transfer portal after head coach Dabo Swinney named freshman Cade Klubnik the team’s starter for this game.

Sportsbooks opened Clemson as a 3-point favorite before the early betting action doubled the line to -6.5 due to Tennessee roster news. There has been some buyback on the Vols since then, dipping the line back down to -5 as of Wednesday afternoon. However, by this morning, it was back up to six most spots. Friday night’s total opened at 64.5 points and has shifted slightly to 63.5.

The Tigers are making their 18th consecutive bowl appearance, which is the fifth-best streak nationally. They were hoping to make another CFP appearance this season, but they were also knocked out in a loss to South Carolina at the end of the regular season.

Clemson bounced back from that loss with a 39-10 win over North Carolina in the ACC title game. Uiagalelei watched most of that game from the sidelines after completing 8 of 29 passes for 99 yards in the upset loss to the Gamecocks. Klubnik completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown in his first start, which came against the Tar Heels.

Swinney is 11-7 in his 18 bowl games with the program, giving him a chance to set an ACC record for career bowl victories on Friday—he is currently tied with former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who also has 11. Klubnik will certainly have his opportunities to impress Swinney in this game, but sophomore running back Will Shipley should get plenty of touches as well.

Shipley was named to the All-ACC first team after rushing for 1,110 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. He is facing a Tennessee defense that is No. 21 nationally in rushing yards allowed per game (115.5), but it will be without linebacker Jeremy Banks (opt out). The Vols will still have defensive end Byron Young and right tackle Darnell Wright, who are set to declare for the draft after this game.

Tennessee is going to be missing much more production on the other side of the ball, as Biletnikoff Award winner Jalin Hyatt and wide receiver Cedric Tillman both opted out to prepare for the draft. Backup quarterback Joe Milton III is set to make his second start of the season and the fourth of his Tennessee tenure due to Hooker’s injury, leading an offense that averages a nation-best 45.7 points per game.

Milton has completed 34 of 54 passes for 720 yards, seven touchdowns and zero interceptions this season. He has a chance to give Tennessee its first 11-win season since 2001.

“We have to finish it off, obviously, for our brother Hendon,” Milton said. “He put a lot into the program, and if he was out there, he’d be playing his heart out. I feel like that’s what we’ll do as a team.”

Tennessee will need a strong day from running backs Jaylen Wright and Jabari Small, who combined for nearly 1,500 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns this season. They are facing a Clemson defense that is led by Jeremiah Trotter Jr., who has 12 tackles for loss.

The Vols went 9-3 against the spread this season, and they have gone ‘over’ the total in 13 of their last 18 games. Clemson is 6-3 ATS in its last nine games this year and is 10-0 ATS in its last 10 December games. The Tigers are 18-2 straight up in their last 20 games as favorites.

The pick: Tennessee +6

Milton has had his fair share of missed throws during his career, but he comes into this game with much more experience than Klubnik. Clemson is going to rely heavily on its rushing attack, which plays directly into the strength of Tennessee’s defense. The Vols still have plenty of talent offensively even without Hyatt and Tillman, and they have been one of the most profitable teams to back in college football this season. Their pass rush recorded 40 sacks this season and is going to be a lot for a freshman quarterback to handle. I also expect Tennessee to be more motivated in this game, as it has finally reached a marquee bowl game, while Clemson was hoping to get back to the CFP. The Tigers still have a slight edge as far as winning the game outright, but Tennessee should be able to cover the number.

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