Behind Enemy Lines: Talking about the Orange Bowl with Clemson Wire

The 2022 edition of the Orange Bowl is headlined by the Tennessee Volunteers and Clemson Tigers who represent the Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference, respectively. While the two teams missed out on the College Football Playoffs this year, earning a spot in the prestigious South Florida venue is nothing to scoff at as a consolation prize.

The Vols were humming along in a campaign that saw them snap a five-game losing streak to the Florida Gators as well as a whopping 15-game losing streak to the Alabama Crimson Tide. Unfortunately, the team stumbled in a pair of defeats and then an injury to Heisman hopeful Hendon Hooker literally took the legs out from under the squad. Now with a roster decimated by both injuries and NFL draft commitments, Tennessee hopes to hold out against the current ACC champions.

Vols Wire went behind enemy lines with Clemson Wire ahead of the postseason affair to get an idea of what Tennessee is up against on Friday. Take a look below at our Q&A with managing editor Alex Turri of our sister site, who had a few tidy tidbits to share with the Rocky Top faithful.

A lot of the Clemson fanbase was dissatisfied with the overall play of DJ Uiagalelei this season. Is Cade Klubnik really the answer they think he is?

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While it is definitely early to call Klubnik “the answer,” I believe he has all the tools necessary to be an elite quarterback and one of the best to play football at Clemson.

I love DJ Uiagalelei as a person. He was a great teammate, and I do still think he has an incredibly high ceiling, but man, it was a night and day difference with Cade under center in the ACC Championship game. Clemson’s offense went from looking like a mid-level group that could only depend on their rushing attack to a complete offense that can beat you anywhere on the field in the blink of an eye.

It is still early to call him the answer, but it is definitely not too early to acknowledge that Klubnik is legit.

What went wrong in the Tigers’ two losses against Notre Dame and South Carolina, respectively?

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Honestly, a lot went wrong in both matchups, but let’s start with Notre Dame. Clemson simply got outplayed and outcoached against the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame dominated up front and was simply the better team that night. I don’t think Klubnik was ready for that game.

South Carolina, on the other hand, Clemson had no business losing. While I do believe Dabo Swinney is one of the best coaches in all of college football, he 100% dropped the ball by not making a move to Klubnik in this matchup.

The Gamecocks were smart and said, “we’re going to make DJ beat us,” which he just couldn’t do. You need to make the tough decision at some point, and Swinney couldn’t do that.

Just a week later, Klubnik burst onto the scene in the ACC Championship, completely changing Clemson’s offense. If Swinney were to make a move earlier, I can’t help but think Clemson would be playing in the college football playoff rather than the Orange Bowl (not a knock on the Orange Bowl).

There's a lot of criticism of Dabo Swinney and his staff despite another double-digit win total. Is there any truth behind these negative takes?

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There is undoubtedly truth behind these takes. As mentioned before, I think Swinney is one of the best coaches in all of college football. But bias aside, I’d still rank him in the top three in the country.

Even so, Swinney’s reluctance to move to Klubnik is likely a major reason why Clemson isn’t in a playoff, but it also goes a little further than that. While it has been one season, and it is so early to tell, hiring from within the program after losing offensive coordinator Tony Elliott and defensive coordinator Brent Venables was a big mistake; at least, that’s how it looks right now. New offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter has probably caused more issues for Clemson fans than any other piece of the team other than Uiagalelei.

Game after game, the Tigers’ play calling leaves a fan scratching their heads and screaming, “WHY?!”. On the defensive side of things, DC Wes Goodwin hasn’t been awful, but at the same time, this Clemson defense was supposed to be one of the best of all time heading into the season.

They have drastically underplayed compared to the expectations leading up to this season. It is early in both careers, so this can change, but there is definitely truth behind these takes.

Both teams will be playing without their regular-season starting quarterbacks. Which team benefits more from this?

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Clemson benefits from this FAR more than the Volunteers. I do think Joe Milton III is a talented quarterback, but when it comes down to it, the Tigers clearly upgraded under center, and the Vols lost a quarterback who, at one point, was the Heisman favorite.

Clemson is a different team, with Klubnik under center for the better. I don’t think the same can be said about Tennessee.

Who is your x-factor player for Clemson on Friday?

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Have we heard enough of Klubnik? Too bad. That’s Clemson’s x-factor in this matchup. We got a taste of what Klubnik can do under center against North Carolina, and it was fantastic. It is a one-game sample size, but in that one game, Klubnik showed the world what he’s capable of.

Heading into another matchup against a lackluster defense like Tennessee’s, Klubnik’s performance could be monstrous in the Orange Bowl.

What is your final score prediction?

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Heading into this matchup, Hooker being out alone had me leaning toward backing the Tigers. After analyzing the opt-outs for both teams, I think the Volunteers are dealing with more impactful losses than the Tigers. Stars will be missing on both sides, but Clemson is the more complete team with a better chance of filling the holes that Myles Murphy and Trenton Simpson left on the defense.

I see this being an offensive shootout that will be decided by whose defense can make a couple more stops. I think Clemson’s defense is far more capable, so I have Clemson covering the spread.

Clemson 38, Tennessee 30

Story originally appeared on Vols Wire