Clemson’s long-awaited quarterback trade didn’t make much of a difference in the Orange Bowl.
With DJ Uyagaleli out of Oregon State and standout freshman Kady Klopnik making his first career start, the Tigers moved the ball relatively well but fell short time and time again in Tennessee territory.
Clemson and Tennessee led by more than 50 points in nine of their first 10 series, but finished with only six points in that span. There was a missed fake field goal, three missed field goals, mishandling of the red zone clock late in the half, and a fumble on the touchdown.
It was unpleasant for Klopnick and the Tigers, and a long list of fouls proved costly as Tennessee pulled out a 31–14 victory, the program’s largest win since winning the BCS National Championship in 1998.
As Clemson continued to punt, Tennessee was able to put the ball behind Joe Melton’s arm in the end zone. Milton Hendon backed up Hooker for the last two seasons, but Hooker made his second start after suffering a season-ending knee injury.
Milton has a huge hand but has struggled with accuracy throughout his career. In this game, Melton was the best quarterback on the field. He threw several impressive deep balls while setting up shots in tight windows with speed for third-down conversions. His touchdown pass to Bru McCoy started the scoring late in the first quarter.
And in the second half, Melton added two more touchdown passes. One of them came in the final seconds of the third quarter to extend Tennessee’s lead to 21–6. And after Clemson finally scored a touchdown to make it 21–14 with 10:01 to play, Melton responded by finding Ramel Keaton 46 yards out behind the defense to make the score 28–14. .
Melton’s call to Keaton was Tennessee’s sure answer when Clemson seemed to have a glimmer of hope. The touchdown came just 1:27 after Clemson made the score 21–14 on a Klopnick touchdown run. It took the wind out of Clemson’s sails and turned out to be a dagger shading a great season for Tennessee.
Tennessee’s best weather in 20 years
Tennessee hasn’t won a major game since winning the national championship in 1998. By winning the Orange Bowl, Tennessee reached the 11-win mark for the first time since 2001.
It was a nice change of pace for a show mired in scandal a few years ago. UCF coach Josh Heupel came up and took a quick hit and watched the win pile up.
Tennessee has gone 18–8 in Hobble’s two seasons and has won 13 of their last 16 games. UT peaked at No. 1 during the regular season and was in the College Football Playoff picture for the month of November.
Although Hooker and several other top players will be transferring to the NFL, there is plenty of talent slated to return in 2023. That includes Melton, who will compete for the starting job with five-star freshman Niko Imalieva, who is already on campus. as the initial enroller.
It’s hard not to be optimistic about the future of Tennessee’s program, especially with playoff expansion just a few years away. Being in the same division as Georgia is obviously a challenge, but there will be more access to the national championship once the stadium expands to 12 in 2024.
What’s next for Clemson?
On Clemson’s part, it was a disappointing end to another shaky season. The Tigers struggled greatly on offense in 2021 and went on a six-year ACC Championship Series streak. Despite continued disappointing performance on offense, Clemson is back at the top of the AFC this season, but it’s hard not to wonder about the program’s overall trajectory.
With the loss, Clemson finished at 11–3. Prior to the last two seasons, Clemson had not had back-to-back seasons with three or more losses since 2010 and 2011.
Klopnik is a true rookie and his talent level was very evident in Friday night’s game. But the Clemson coaches also put a lot on their shoulders, and they did it on a big stage in the New Year’s Six game. Klopnik finished with 54 pass attempts and 20 run attempts. It had its moments, but Insult as a whole seemed disjointed.
Dabo Swinney appears to be a promising young quarterback in his program, but it’s worth wondering whether his entire offensive approach needs a fresh set of eyes.