Clemson pulls away late for 41–10 win

A swarm of Tech defenders bring down Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei for a sack during the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game. The Jackets recorded three sacks and pressured Clemson often. // Photo by Alex Dubé Student Publications

Tech hung with Clemson for three quarters, only facing a one-score deficit with two minutes left in the third quarter, but the Tigers proved their top-four ranking in the final frame, pulling away for a 41–10 win. Clemson was favored by 24 points entering the matchup, a game in Mercedes-Benz Stadium that had over 47,000 fans in attendance which featured a sea of orange. The game was part of the Chick-fil-A kickoff series and was the final game of the opening week of the 2022 season.

Clemson won the toss and deferred, kicking the ball to Tech for a touchback. The Jackets looked to strike early, throwing deep on the first play of the game, but sophomore quarterback Jeff Sims left the throw short as the Tigers’ defensive back intercepted the pass on the first play from scrimmage. The teams traded punts before a Clemson drive reached Tech’s 22-yard line. A DJ Uiagalelei fumble and a recovery by redshirt senior linebacker Ayinde Eley shut down the momentum and gave Tech the ball.

The Jackets earned a pair of first downs on the ensuing drive, but penalties brought up a third and 27 situation, leading to the first of five consecutive punts by the two teams combined after Tech failed to convert. After the fourth straight three-and-out by the two teams, sophomore punter David Shanahan had his punt blocked, resulting in Clemson possession on Tech’s five-yard line.

After the Jackets’ near goal-line stand by the Jackets, Clemson’s Will Shipley scored from a yard out on fourth down to put the Tigers up 7–0 five minutes into the second quarter. Tech responded with a 42-yard drive which ended with a 50-yard field goal attempt by redshirt freshman kicker Jude Kelley that ended just to the right of the mark. 

The Tigers responded with a second touchdown drive, capped with a six-yard pass from Uiagalelei to Beaux Collins, before Tech mounted another 40-plus yard drive that ended with a field goal attempt. This time, Kelley’s 45-yard attempt was good from the left hash, setting a new career long and getting the Jackets on the board. The first half ended with a 14–3 Tiger lead after a short Clemson drive ended the half.

The Jackets came out of the halftime strong, forcing a punt and driving straight down the field for a touchdown after a short Tiger punt. A series of quick passes got the Jackets to the red zone before a pass to redshirt senior wideout E.J. Jenkins from Sims brought the score to 14–10.

Clemson responded with a long drive, getting to the red zone after a targeting call resulted in the ejection of senior linebacker Charlie Thomas. Thomas was Tech’s leader in tackles at that point and finished the game second among all players with nine tackles, despite missing over a quarter of action. The defense limited Clemson to a field goal, but those three points were the start of 27 unanswered points.

The Tigers scored on four of the next five drives, totaling three touchdowns and a field goal, while Tech’s offense stagnated. The Jackets only managed one more first down, and Clemson’s 17-point fourth quarter stretched a once manageable deficit into a blowout. 

Tech suffered from untimely mistakes that Clemson — by and large — took advantage of. A pair of blocked punts and a missed field goal were a trio of special teams mishaps that were immediately followed by Tiger touchdowns. The Jacket offensive line jumped at Clemson shifts multiple times as well, contributing to the 86 total penalty yards for the Institute, far outstripping the 10 total penalty yards for Clemson. 

Tech also failed to create explosive plays on offense, recording only one play over 20 yards and averaging 2.4 yards per rush and 4.6 yards per pass attempt. Long third downs became unmanageable as a result, contributing to the Jackets’ two-for-16 mark on third down conversions. A pair of fourth down conversions kept drives alive, but Clemson’s defense was able to consistently get off the field on third down and end drives early.

Despite the loss, the Jackets were not without bright spots to open the season. The pass rush was effective, hurrying Uiagalelei on a number of passes and sacking him three times. Redshirt senior defensive lineman Keion White led the charge up front, recording two sacks and five tackles as the Jackets ended with five tackles for loss. 

White and Eley spoke on the defense’s effort postgame, with White saying, “I feel like our defense is the nucleus of the team. … as a defense I feel we stayed together because of our leadership, and I think going forward that will be a big part of who we are as a team.”

Eley echoed the sentiment, saying, “We were confident … We had faith in our plan and our confidence. We just got the short end of the stick tonight, and will go back tomorrow, watch the film, correct what needs to be corrected and come back next week.”

Sims had a respectable game despite the early interception as well. While he only passed for 164 yards, he completed nearly two thirds of his pass attempts and tossed the touchdown pass to Jenkins. 

Jenkins voiced his support for Sims, saying, “Jeff is a soldier. I like Jeff a lot. … I’ve seen Jeff grow a lot especially since I’ve been here. I’m just proud of him. I’m glad he’s my quarterback.”

Tech has a short turnaround before their true home opener this weekend against Western Carolina. The Catamounts beat Charleston Southern 52–38 and will bring a tough passing attack to Bobby Dodd Stadium. The Jackets will hope to get back on track with a win over an FCS foe and even their record when toe meets leather at 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 10.