Rapid Reaction: Joe Milton throws for 3 TDs, leads No. 6 Tennessee to Orange Bowl victory over No. 7 Clemson
Joe Milton had a standout night leading the Tennessee offense, and the Volunteer defense didn’t break, as No. 6 UT defeated No. 7 Clemson 31-14 in the Orange Bowl. Milton threw for 251 yards and 3 touchdowns on 19-of-28 passing to help the Vols get their 11th win of the 2022 campaign, ending Year 2 of the Josh Heupel era on a high note as Tennessee looks to become New Year’s Six bowl regulars.
Milton was making his second start of the season after Hendon Hooker’s season-ending injury. Milton, a 5th-year veteran, got to remind the college football world that he has a cannon for an arm on numerous deep balls. More importantly, Milton showed that he can effectively run Heupel’s offense – even without two of Tennessee’s top wideouts – while playing turnover-free football.
In the absence of star wideouts Jaylin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman, Squirrel White and Ramel Keyton stepped up for the Volunteers. It also provided an opportunity for Bru McCoy, who caught a 16-yard laser in the end zone for Milton’s first touchdown of the game.
Though Clemson was able to move the ball on offense, Tennessee’s defense was successful in keeping the Tigers out of the end zone. Clemson’s first possession ended in an unsuccessful fake field goal. It didn’t get any better for Dabo Swinney’s squad in the first half.
Clemson had 3-consecutive missed field goals on possessions 2-4 as UT established a double-digit lead of 14-0. The Tigers were able to get one successful field goal before the half. Despite all the plays in UT territory, Clemson did not score a touchdown until the 10:01 mark of the 4th quarter.
The Vol defense turned one of its most impressive performances of the season. Clemson ran a total of 101 plays to the UT offense’s 66. Tennessee won the turnover battle 2-0. Vols LB Aaron Beasley led all with 12 tackles, including 4 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. UT DL Byron Young also had 2 sacks.
Tennessee turned heads in 2022 for its ability to score early and often. Predictably, the Vols looked different without Hooker, Hyatt and Tillman. But when it mattered most, Milton and company were able to deliver.
Following a big 4th-down stop by Beasley to keep it a 14-6 game in the 3rd quarter, Tennessee took over on its 30-yard line. In less than 90 seconds, the Vols went 70 yards in 4 plays to make it 21-6. Big-time running from Jaylen Wright, including a 42-yard carry, helped set up a strike from Milton to White. Wright finished with 89 yards on 11 carries. Jabari Small had 13 carries for 38 yards and a TD.
After Clemson cut it to 21-14 with a touchdown and 2-point conversion, Milton engineered another scoring drive. The Vols went 75 yards in 87 seconds on 6 plays. Milton went to Keyton twice, capping the drive with a highlight throw for a 46-yard TD to get the lead back to 28-14.
Clemson freshman QB Cade Klubnik was 30-of-54 passing for 320 yards and 2 interceptions.