After a gritty win last week on the road at Louisville, Clemson returned to Death Valley to take on the UConn Huskies in a game that found the Tigers 40-point favorites. We all know how crazy college football can be, but this matchup was widely expected to be as close to a bye week as possible while actually having to take the field. It turned out to be a little tougher than that for the Tiger offense. This was the week that the Tigers wear purple in honor of our nation’s veterans and active service members. A big thank you to all of you veterans and active duty families for your service to our country.
UConn didn’t get the message about this being an easy week for the Tigers. They returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a TD. The Tigers responded with a drive that included three 4th down conversions and ended with a B.T. Potter FG to make the score 7-3 UConn. I thought I had seen some bad play by the Clemson offensive line this year, but on this first drive they said “Hold my beer”. Pathetic is the best way I can think to describe it. I really hope Dabo gets the message this offseason and does something to change what is going on with the line.
UConn’s first drive had some good plays, but they eventually fell victim to penalties and had to punt. The Clemson offense collected itself and moved down the field with some good catches by Dacari Collins and Justyn Ross, but they ended up at 4th & goal. Potter came in to kick a FG but holder Will Swinney picked it up and, getting a nice block by Davis Allen, ran it into the end zone. Clemson led 10-7 with 3 minutes left in the quarter.
The Huskies fell victim to the Tiger defense with a 3rd down sack by Tyler Davis and punted. Taisun Phommachanh came in at QB for the Tigers and ripped off a couple of good runs. He then hit Dacari Collins down the sideline to the Huskey 3 and followed that with a run for the score. Clemson led 17-7 29 seconds into the 2nd quarter.
UConn had another 3 & out as the Tiger defense settled into their expected dominating state. D.J. came back in and threw an interception. Up to this point he had his usual inconsistent game, throwing some strikes and then wildly missing open receivers. He needs to spend the off-season with a top QB coach. His arm strength is clearly good but he really needs to get his footwork and decision-making cleaned up.
UConn turned it over on downs. D.J. did have a nice throw on a 31-yard catch by Jake Briningstool, but I think it was a bad idea to have him in the game at this point. He wasn’t playing very well and was clearly hobbled with his knee injury. Taisun was playing well and the opponent’s talent level didn’t warrant having your starting QB in the game hobbling around on a bad knee, risking making it worse. Potter came in and kicked another FG to make it 20-7 with 8 minutes left in the half.
UConn dug themselves into a hole with an interception at the Huskey 17. D.J. continued throwing poor passes, and I kept asking myself why the coaching staff wanted him in the game. At halftime Dabo said Taisun had hurt his throwing shoulder and couldn’t go back in. Sounds like a good time to get your 3rd string QB some real snaps. If he isn’t able to lead your team to a win, that tells you something important, and then you put D.J. back in. Potter kicked another FG to make it 23-7.
The Huskies made some plays, but the Tiger defense eventually buried them. D.J. was back in and the offense went 3 & out. Then UConn and Clemson traded impotent possessions. Clemson got the ball back with less than a minute left and moved down the field. D.J. hit Beaux Collins for a 32-yard score to make it 30-7 Clemson at halftime.
The Huskies opened the 2nd half with an onside kick but the Tigers recovered it at the UConn 46. Phil Mafah had a nice catch up the middle and several good runs to move Clemson into the red zone. An offensive pass interference call slowed the Tigers but UConn returned the favor soon thereafter, giving Clemson 1st & goall at the 2. Mafah went up the middle and scored standing up. With 10:20 left in the 3rd quarter, Clemson led 37-7. On UConn’s drive, Sheridan Jones made a pretty interception to give the ball back to the Tiger offense at the Huskey 49.
Darrien Rencher started the next Tiger possession with a 12-yard run, but the offense didn’t do much after that. Will Spiers’ punt gave UConn the ball at their 3. They could only muster a 3 & out. A promising start to the Tiger drive with an 11-yard run by Mafah ended three plays later. On their next drive Clemson, led by QB Hunter Helms, put together a nice drive but it ended when Rencher fumbled while stretching to get into the end zone. UConn recovered it in the end zone. The rest of the game was filled with play by players way down the depth chart. Tiger QB Billy Wiles connected with Jake Briningstool for a score to make it 44-7 with under 4 minutes left.
As expected, the Tigers won comfortably but it was not a very good performance on the offensive side of the ball. The defense did a pretty good job. In other words, it was the kind of performance we’ve seen from the team all season. Coming into the season, I felt good about the QB situation but it is now clear that D.J. needs a lot of work to achieve the kind of success we’ve come to expect from that position. The offensive line has been nothing short of a disaster and they haven’t seemed to improve at all. Whatever happens the rest of the year, Clemson has a lot of work to do in the offseason. A lot. Injuries have not helped matters, but they are far from being a major factor in how poorly this team has played. Let’s discuss today’s game and next week’s game with Wake Forest with potential Atlantic Division championship implications. Once again thank you to all active service members, veterans and their families for the sacrifices they make for our country. And thanks to all for stopping by for today’s recap.