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Behind enemy bylines: Clemson vs. Tennessee in Orange Bowl

The Daily Beacon

Clemson will play Tennessee in the 2022 Orange Bowl on Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. 

Ahead of Clemson’s matchup with Tennessee in the 2022 Orange Bowl, Justin Robertson, the sports editor of The Tiger, spoke to Andrew Peters, the sports editor of Tennessee’s student newspaper, The Daily Beacon

Justin Robertson (JR): How excited is the student body for this game?

Andrew Peters (AP): Yeah, I think people are really, really excited. A lot of Tennessee students have lived in Knoxville for their entire life and therefore have been Tennessee fans their entire life. So, pretty much every student right now hasn’t really seen any real Tennessee success. The best season since this one was in 2006 when most of the students were really young kids.

I think just with the excitement of this year, this is kind of just a good way to cap it all off for students. Obviously, not making the College Football Playoff was a little bit disappointing. But if you take a big look at the last few years of this program, this is obviously some insane growth, so I think people are really excited even though it’s not the College Football Playoff.

JR: With Hendon Hooker’s injury and Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman opting out, who will need to step up for Tennessee on offense?

AP: I think the obvious one is Joe Milton, the starting quarterback. Milton’s got some experience. He played at Michigan for a few years and has been the backup for one of the best quarterbacks in the country for a season and a half. So I think you look at Joe Milton first. He’s got to be accurate. He’s got to be gutsy. He has a really big arm, but sometimes he overthrows receivers, and you can’t really do that. You can do that against Vanderbilt when you’re beating them by 56 points, but you can’t really do that against Clemson, who you’re going to be going back-and-forth with all game.

And then some of the receivers are going to be getting a little bit more playing time and a little bit more targets than they might normally. Bru McCoy is a big one. He’s been really solid, splitting minutes with Jalin Hyatt and Tillman. I think McCoy has a pretty big opportunity to step up here.

JR: Who’s an under-the-radar player on Tennessee’s roster?

AP: I’m going to go back to the running backs. I think that those guys are kind of the under-the-radar guys. Most of Tennessee’s success this season has come from airing it out to Jalin Hyatt, Cedric Tillman and other guys, but what people don’t see on SportsCenter and on highlight pages is Jaylen Wright and Jabari Small kind of doing the dirty work. They get those five or 6-yard gains. Jabari Small, at the end of the season, has kind of morphed into a huge part of the offense, getting some 15 and 20-yard runs and racking up a lot of touchdowns.

JR: What’s the biggest strength of this Tennessee team?

AP: I think it’s still the offense. With Hendon Hooker, Jalin Hyatt and Cedric Tillman, it’s obviously one of, if not the best, offense in the country, so that would be my answer if Hooker was playing. But even though he’s not, I think offense it’s still the biggest strength. Even though the two best receivers aren’t playing, you’ve still got some really good guys that would probably start on most other SEC teams.

JR: Who do you think will win?

AP: I’ve got Clemson winning. I haven’t even thought about a number yet, but I think it’ll probably be like 40-35 just because it’s definitely going to be a high-scoring game just based on these two offenses.

If Tennessee was fully healthy and didn’t have any players opting out, I would probably pick Tennessee. But that’s just not the case. So I think even with Clemson playing some backups, they are a little bit better than Tennessee’s backups. And that’s not to say Tennessee isn’t on the same level as Clemson at this point, but it still has a long way to go in terms of recruiting and just getting some more depth. Once you lose Hyatt, Tillman and Hooker, they take a big step backward. 

Interview responses are edited for length and clarity.

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Justin Robertson, Associate Editor
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