MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Despite missing its top two wide receivers and star quarterback Hendon Hooker, Tennessee won its first Orange Bowl since 1939 with a 31-14 win over Clemson on Friday night at Hard Rock Stadium.
The win also secured Tennessee’s first 11-win season since 2001.
Tennessee got the scoring started when Joe Milton hooked up with Bru McCoy for a 16-yard touchdown, capping a 12 play 74 yard drive taking 4:01 off the clock.
Milton was named Orange Bowl Most Valuable Player after completing 19-28 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns.
The Vols struck again early in the second quarter, after Milton found Squirrel White on a 50-yard bomb, Jabari Small scored his 13th touchdown of the season from two yards out. Tennessee led 14-0 with 9:03 remaining in the first half.
In the third quarter, Milton and White connected again, this time on a 14-yard touchdown to give the Vols a 21-6 lead through three quarters.
After Clemson responded with a Cade Klubnik touchdown run to make it a one-score game, the Vols quickly answered going on a six-play 75-yard drive capped by a Milton to Ramel Keyton on a 46-yard touchdown pass.
Despite missing third-leading tackler Jeremy Banks, the Tennessee defense played a “bend but don’t break” style of play in the victory, holding the Tigers to 14 points despite giving up 484 yards on 101 plays from scrimmage. The Vols forced two turnovers, a 4th quarter interception by Tamarion McDonald and another late in the game by Wesley Walker.
Tennessee dominated the Tigers up front, keeping the Clemson freshman quarterback under duress for much of the game.
White and Keyton filled in admirably for Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman who opted out of the game to prepare for the NFL Draft. White, who started in the slot, a position held down by Hyatt most of the season, finished with nine catches for 108 yards and a touchdown. Keyton hauled in 4 catches for 76 yards and a score.