ATLANTA (AP) – DJ Uiagalelie threw one touchdown and ran into another, beating a slow start to the season opener as No. 4 seed Clemson pulled out to claim a 41-10 win over Georgia Tech on Monday night.
Uiagalelie completed 19 of 32 passes for 209 yards, including a 6-yard play to Beaux Collins that gave the Tigers a two-pointer lead in the first half.
Georgia Tech, looking to improve on three straight seasons of three wins that put coach Jeff Collins in a hot seat, kept him closer than expected on the road.
But the Yellow Jackets couldn’t overcome two dead-end kicks, both of which were led to short distances by Will Shipley.
Georgia Tech pulled in 14-10 in an impressive run in the third quarter, culminating in Jeff Sims throwing a 13-yard TD pass into a 6-foot-7 EJ Jenkins transfer.
But Uiagalelie, in what was likely the play of the game, looked headed toward a sack when two Georgia Tech defenders cornered him in the third and fourth stages. But the quarterback managed to stay upright long enough to flip sideways to Shipley, whose first 10-yard touchdown kept Clemson’s attack on the field.
The Tigers continued to drive 74 yards for a touchdown that finally buried the Yellow Jackets. Uiagalelie ran 9 yards to push Clemson’s lead to 24-10.
Clemson scored his first touchdown on private teams after both teams faced an early struggle on attack.
Carson Donnelly broke through the line untouched and a choked kick by David Shanahan. Brannon Specter grabbed the ball at Georgia Tech 18 and took it down before running out of bounds.
The Yellow Jackets put up a solid stance on the goal line, but Shipley finally ran in for fourth and goal of 1.
Sims threw an interception on Georgia Tech’s first play of the season, an ill-advised deep throw while under pressure that was criticized by Andrew Mokuba.
The Yellow Jackets’ third-year quarterback is key to the team’s chances in a transforming season, so much so that Collins brought on Chip Long as offensive coordinator and Chris Winky as quarterback coach with the specific goal of getting a more consistent play out of Sims.
He showed flashes in both throwing and running, but they weren’t nearly enough to get rid of the discomfort. Sims threw for 164 yards and led the team in a 41-yard dash.
The second Chick-fil-A Kickoff was played this Labor Day weekend in front of a crowd of 47,712 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, with the upper deck sealed off to prevent it from looking like a Clemson match at home.
As it stands, at least half of the crowd seemed to be decorated in orange.
Clemson: Heading into a 10-3 season that was considered a disappointment by the Tigers’ lofty standards, it still looks like this team is in the making.
For the first time in Dabo Swinney’s 14 full seasons as a coach, Clemson is splitting into two new coordinators, so it may take a while to get on the same page.
But the offensive line barely looked dominant and there was a stark difference between the third and fourth seeded teams. 3rd seed Georgia No. 11 blasted Oregon 49-3 in their first game kickoff on Saturday.
Georgia Tech: Collins apparently did little to correct some of the familiar problems that plagued his first three years in Atlanta.
There were plenty of penalties, including a combination of false starts, an unnecessary pass penalty that led to an extended drive when the Yellow Jackets had momentum, and a call-up that led to Charlie Thomas being sent off.
In addition, the special teams were in disarray. Two prohibited kicks cannot be justified.
The repercussions of the opinion poll
Clemson will likely stay in place in the Associated Press’s ratings after pulling out to achieve the bottom line in the expected range.
Clemson: Foreman, a member of the Southern Conference FCS, takes in his home opening Saturday. It’s a short ride for Paladins, whose campus is about 35 miles from Death Valley.
Georgia Tech: Plays its campus opening Saturday when another Southern Conference team, West Carolina, visits Bobby Dodd Stadium.
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