CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Clemson’s offense continued to look out of sorts as D.J. Uiagalelei completed 21 of 44 passes for 241 yards a touchdown and an interception in the Tigers 44-7 win over UConn on Saturday.
An easy win has been a rarity for Clemson (7-3) in this unusual season, but the victory over one of the worst teams in FBS didn’t answer a lot of questions.
“We didn’t play to that standard today. We’ll take accountability for it and work on it,” Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliot said.
Uiagalelei continued to struggle overthrowing receivers. He played for two-and-a-half quarters despite a sprained knee ligament that left him hobbling at the end of last week’s win over Louisville.
The sophomore did lead Clemson to touchdowns on his final two drives of the day, an 88-yard drive just before half that took 34 seconds and the opening drive of the third quarter.
“I like how he finished,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said.
Receiver Dacari Collins said it isn’t all Uiagalelei’s fault. “From day one, we’ve got to do better catching the ball,” he said.
Clemson scored two touchdowns on its first eight drives. One score came on a fake field goal and the other as backup quarterback Taisun Phommachanh took over for four plays before leaving with what appeared to be a shoulder injury.
“There would have been a lot more opportunities for Taisun if he had been available,” said Elliot, who also said that Uiagalelei is still “our guy.”
Uiagalelei averages nine carries a game, but rushed just once Saturday, a 1-yard sneak on 4th-and-1 in the third quarter.
It may have been another costly win for the Tigers, who at times have been without 18 scholarship players.
Along with Phommachanh, at least three other Tigers had their days finish with injuries, including leading receiver Justyn Ross, who returned to the sideline in a boot and crutches after limping off the field following a 25-yard catch in the first quarter.
“We know adversity is coming. We just don’t know where it is going to be,” Elliot said.
The Huskies’ only touchdown came on a 99-yard return of the opening kickoff by Brain Brewton. The freshman also had a 76-yard kickoff return late in the fourth quarter, but UConn couldn’t score on a drive that started on the Clemson 12.
On hand to watch all of it was next year’s Huskies head coach Jim Mora Jr. The former UCLA, Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks coach was hired Thursday and is working an an assistant the rest of this season so he can recruit. Mora was on the sidelines Saturday.
Interim head coach Lou Spanos said he didn’t pay any attention to the new boss hanging around.
“All the other stuff — you just focus on the task,” Spanos said.
Clemson’s defense continued to dominate. They forced two turnovers and had six sacks for 44 yards against UConn (1-9), which started the day ranked 126th out of 130 FBS offenses.
The Huskies gained just 99 yards, and the sacks left them with minus-17 yards rushing. UConn was 0-for-14 on third down and 0-for-4 on fourth down.
“Just a really, really good day from start to finish defensively,” Swinney said.
Clemson scored its first touchdown on a fake field goal l as holder and coach’s son Will Swinney ran six yards for a score as the Tigers second drive bogged down and the home crowd was restless.
What little momentum UConn had evaporated with the second TD of the senior’s career.
The Huskies tried an onside kick to open the second half, but Clemson easily recovered.
UConn: The Huskies take $1.2 million and the experience of playing in front of 77,522 people back to Connecticut for playing this road game. “The atmosphere was amazing. That’s definitely the most people I’ve ever played in front of,” Brewton said.
Clemson: Questionable quarterback play by Uiagalelei led to scattered boos at Death Valley, especially in the first half and even a brief chant of “we want Taisun” for the backup quarterback. Saturday did little to solve the problems for a Clemson team that will need to win the last two regular season games and a bowl to record an 11th straight season with at least 10 wins.
UConn: The Huskies are at UCF next Saturday.
Clemson: The Tigers host Wake Forest in a key game to decide the winner of the Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division, just not for who we thought before the season started.