Clemson started slow before breezing past Connecticut on Saturday at Memorial Stadium to improve to 7-3 overall on the season. Here are four sequences that went a long way toward deciding the outcome, a turning point and a telling stat from the Tigers’ 44-7 win.
- UConn took a lead before many of the 77,522 fans in attendance had a chance to settle into their seats when Brian Brewton dropped the opening kickoff near the goal line before outracing the Tigers’ coverage team for a 99-yard touchdown. Clemson converted three fourth downs on its opening possession to take some momentum back on B.T. Potter’s 49-yard field goal. Clemson then turned to some trickeration on its second drive when Dacari Collins’ dropped pass in the end zone left the Tigers facing fourth-and-goal from UConn’s 6-yard line. The Tigers sent the field-goal team back on the field, but Will Swinney took the snap and faked a hold for Potter before scampering through the middle for a touchdown that gave Clemson its first lead with 3 minutes, 3 seconds left in the opening quarter.
- Taisun Phommachanh made his first appearance midway through the Tigers’ third possession with Clemson driving near midfield after a pass-interference penalty. Clemson’s backup carried on his first two snaps for a combined 13 yards before pulling up for a pass. He connected with Collins down the sideline for a 33-yard gain, moving Clemson to the Huskies’ 3. Phommachanh kept on a zone read on the Tigers’ next play and raced around the right end for the capper on a six-play, 66-yard scoring drive that extended Clemson’s lead to 17-7 with 14:31 left in the second quarter.
- UConn was set up with prime field position early in the second quarter when Stan Cross intercepted Uiagalelei at the Tigers’ 40. But the defense got the ball back to the offense four plays later when Myles Murphy broke through the line to drop UConn’s Kevin Mensah short of the line to gain on fourth-and-3. The Tigers drove down for another 49-yard field goal from Potter, and the offense was quickly back in business at the Huskies’ 17 when Mario Goodrich intercepted Jack Zergiotis on UConn’s next possession. Uiagalelei missed a wide-open Collins in the end zone before Beaux Collins dropped what would’ve been a touchdown over the middle, but another Potter field goal — this one from 30 yards out — pushed Clemson’s lead to 23-7 with 6:30 left before halftime.
- Clemson snuffed out UConn’s surprise onside kick to start the second half, setting the Tigers’ offense up at UConn’s 46. Eleven plays later — with the help of Uiagalelei’s fourth-down conversion run and pass interference on UConn near the goal line — Clemson was in the end zone again on Phil Mafah’s 2-yard run, extending its lead to 37-7 before emptying the bench the rest of the way.
It wasn’t the prettiest first half for Uiagalelei and the rest of Clemson’s offense, which found the end zone just twice in the first two quarters against the nation’s No. 119 scoring defense. Before taking over at their own 12 with just 49 seconds left in the half, Uiagalelei had thrown eight straight incompletions and the Tigers had gone three-and-out on three straight possessions. But Uiagalelei found a bit of a groove on Clemson’s final possession of the second quarter, completing passes of 8, 19 and 29 yards to quickly move the Tigers into UConn territory. Uiagalelei then found Beaux Collins with perhaps his best throw of the half two plays later, dropping one in the breadbasket to the freshman receiver near the front corner of the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown that put Clemson up three scores at the half, more than enough of a cushion given the way Clemson’s defense suffocated the Huskies from the start.
Telling stat: -17
That was UConn’s final rushing total. It’s easily the fewest rushing yards allowed by Clemson this season and the fifth-fewest the Tigers have ever yielded. The Tigers swallowed up UConn’s leading rusher, Nate Carter (19 yards on five carries), and recorded six sacks of the Huskies’ quarterbacks, who were under constant pressure against Clemson’s various defensive looks. UConn’s offense drove into Clemson territory just once in 16 possessions in large part because the Huskies were routinely behind the chains. Simply put, they were no match for Clemson up front.
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