Vols dealing with one final dose of defensive adversity heading into the Orange Bowl

Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee senior linebacker Aaron Beasley, shown here during Tuesday’s practice at Barry University, is confident the Volunteers can overcome the loss of fellow linebacker Jeremy Banks, who has opted out of Friday night’s Orange Bowl.

DANIA BEACH, Fla. -- The Tennessee Volunteers played one game in the regular season without fifth-year senior linebacker Jeremy Banks, and that was the 63-38 loss at South Carolina.

Naturally, that topic came up Tuesday as the No. 6 Vols prepare for Friday night's Orange Bowl against No. 7 Clemson without him. The 6-foot-1, 224-pounder announced late Christmas Eve that he was forgoing Tennessee's biggest bowl in nearly a quarter century to get a head start on his NFL aspirations.

"I would love to have my brother out there with me, but this game is a business," senior linebacker Aaron Beasley said. "Things happen, and we have to adapt, be able to handle the adversity and count on the next guy who's up."

Beasley, a 6-1, 225-pounder from Franklin, Georgia, is Tennessee's leading tackler with 64 and announced Tuesday that he plans to use the extra year of eligibility the NCAA implemented after the coronavirus outbreak and return for a fifth season. He will be counted on Friday along with fifth-year senior Juwan Mitchell, sixth-year senior Solon Page III and freshman Elijah Herring, who has played mostly special teams this season but has drawn rave reviews.

Banks racked up a team-high 128 tackles last season, including 20 in the Music City Bowl loss to Purdue, and tallied 53 this year.

"Jeremy obviously had a tremendous career here at Tennessee, particularly these last two seasons, and he's definitely one of our emotional leaders," Vols second-year defensive coordinator Tim Banks said. "He's got great energy and great passion, and from that perspective, it will be hard to replace, but we've had a lot of moving parts on defense all year, so this is nothing new."

Though Tennessee had its hands full defensively in wins over Florida and Alabama during the first half of the season, the Vols were noticeably improved from a year ago and had stout showings in routs of LSU (40-13), Kentucky (44-6) and Vanderbilt (56-0). The obvious abomination was the Nov. 19 trip to Columbia, when the Gamecocks racked up 606 yards and 35 first downs.

Take away the final seconds of each half, and South Carolina scored on nine of 10 possessions.

"Obviously we didn't play as well as we needed to play to win the game," Banks said of his unit. "We didn't play great situational football, and it was an unfortunate night. Sometimes those things happen, and it's in how you respond, and we cam back to get the first shutout of an SEC opponent in a katrillion years.

"We lost a game, and we lost it by a bunch of points. To tell you exactly what happened? We just didn't play good enough."

When Clemson senior tight end and former Calhoun High standout Davis Allen was asked about the Vols' debacle inside Williams-Brice Stadium, he said, "You watch and study it, but you prepare for their very best."

Clemson offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter said South Carolina "had 14 or 15 big, giant plays, and they all connected," and he added that the absence of Banks won't change too much as far as preparation.

"Any time you have a guy who opts out or is not playing in a game, you make slight adjustments based on who it is," Streeter said. "They have multiple guys who have played. It's just recognizing the fact that they're a little bit lighter at linebacker now."

Tennessee junior defensive tackle Omari Thomas also revealed that he would be returning next season, while junior edge rusher Tyler Baron said he has not made his decision.

Staying straight

Tennessee has already secured its first 10-win season since 2007 and its first 10-win regular season since 2003, but sixth-year defensive tackle LaTrell Bumphus is plenty motivated for Friday and hopes his teammates are as well.

"I think it matters a lot," Bumphus said. "We're in Miami, where it's very easy to get off track and not stay to the purpose. You have to have a good balance, and you can still have fun, but you have to realize why you're here.

"We went to a bowl game last year, but this is the first bowl game at this level for our players, and this is only my third bowl game in six years."

Bumphus played in 10 games as a freshman for the 2017 Vols, who lost eight games and went winless in Southeastern Conference play for the first time in program history. That season served as his low moment, while this season's thrills, especially the 52-49 victory over Alabama and the ensuing field-storming, served as his favorites.

"I've never seen that amount of people at one time," Bumphus said. "As soon as we kicked the ball and you blinked, everybody was on the field."

Not awkward

Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik began this year as an early enrollee and as an understudy to junior DJ Uiagalelei, and Klubnik ended it as the starter, coming off the bench earlier this month to complete 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown in the 39-10 thumping of North Carolina for the Atlantic Coast Conference title.

Uiagalelei has since entered the transfer portal, but the two quarterbacks still talk.

"It's not awkward at all. It really isn't," Klubnik said. "I really enjoy our relationship, and that may come as a surprise to a lot of people, but we are super close, and the relationship we've been able to build over the past year has been awesome.

"Going out there that first practice with him not there was definitely hard, and that goes for everyone who goes on to different opportunities."

Loving the link

Tigers sophomore running back Will Shipley has done a little bit of everything this season, rushing for 1,110 yards and 5.8 yards per carry, amassing 34 receptions for 221 yards and a 6.5-yard clip, and averaging 23.7 yards on kickoff returns.

The 5-11, 205-pounder from the Charlotte area has drawn comparisons to former Carolina Panthers and current San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey.

"There have been a good amount of those," Shipley said. "I grew up watching him when he was at Stanford and just fell in love and watched all of his film. I loved it when he was at Carolina, and now I'm a 49ers fan. He's just a role model to me in how he carries himself on and off the field.

"I love the comparisons, but obviously I want to be different. He is so efficient with his movements it's absurd. He doesn't waste an ounce of energy in anything he does. He took like 96% of the carries when he was with the Panthers and was still good."

Odds and ends

Bumphus on the first time he saw 6-5, 245-pound quarterback Joe Milton III: "Man, we got us a new D-lineman." ... Former Vols running back Justin Williams-Thomas announced Tuesday that he had committed to Stanford.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.