MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Joe Milton completed 19 of 28 passes for 251 yards and three touchdowns, and No. 6 Tennessee finished off its best season in more than two decades by topping No. 10 Clemson 31-14 in the Orange Bowl on Friday night.
Squirrel White, Bru McCoy and Ramel Keyton had the scoring catches for the Volunteers (11-2), who matched their best record since 2001. Jaylen Wright rushed for 89 yards and Jabari Small had a touchdown run for Tennessee.
Cade Klubnik, making his first start for Clemson, completed 30 of 54 passes for 320 yards with two interceptions. But Clemson (11-3) just kept coming up empty on chances; the Tigers got into Tennessee territory on nine of their first 10 possessions — and turned those trips into only two field goals.
Klubnik ran in from 4 yards out to get Clemson within 21-14 with 10:01 left, but Milton connected with Keyton for a 46-yard score on the next Tennessee possession. The Volunteers intercepted Klubnik on a desperation fourth-down heave about a minute later and the celebration wasn’t on yet — but looming.
Workers began setting up the postgame stage, including the customary oranges that the winning team gets to toss during the trophy ceremony.
And in this very orange Orange Bowl — both teams have it as their primary color — it was the Tennessee hue that was superior.
Milton, the Orange Bowl MVP, opened the scoring with a 16-yard pass to McCoy late in the first, and Small’s 2-yard rush pushed the lead to 14-0 with 9:03 left in the half. The nation’s most prolific offense wasn’t at its best Friday night — Tennessee led the nation this year in yards and points per game — but it didn’t have to be, either.
Clemson got the ball seven times in the first half, getting inside Tennessee territory all seven times and getting to the Vols 25 or better on four occasions.
And somehow, that only added up to three points.
A field goal was the only first-half success for Clemson. The other six possessions: a stuffed fake field-goal run by Drew Swinney, the son of Clemson coach Dabo Swinney; a punt; three missed field goals by B.T. Potter — the most prolific kicker in school history — and a brutal final drive when Klubnik was tackled on a keeper with 6 seconds left. Clemson was out of timeouts, couldn’t get the field-goal unit on the field and went into halftime trailing 14-3.
Potter opened the second half with a 40-yarder of the no-problem variety — the 73rd field goal of his career, a school record for the Tigers. But White caught a 14-yard pass with 5 seconds left in the third, giving the Vols a 21-6 lead going into the fourth.
Tennessee: The Vols traveled well for this game, predictably — and one fan was particularly thrilled. Peyton Manning was on the sideline pregame and had a prime seat for the contest. When he got shown on the in-stadium screens during the second half, he pointed to his Tennessee hat and nodded knowingly as the Vol fans roared.
Clemson: The three big plays that the Tigers will lament aren’t hard to identify. The fake field-goal run was one, Klubnik’s time-management blunder to end the first half was another, and the third was a decision to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Vols 31 late in the third. Will Shipley was stopped on a run to the left, and four plays later, Milton found White for the 21-6 lead.