CLEMSON, SC - Well this is something we've never seen from Dabo before. He actually sat Shipley and Pace in order to protect them from being injured, knowing he wouldn't need them to beat UConn. There have been dozens of games over the years in which many thought Dabo ought to hold players like Trevor Lawrence or Travis Etienne out against inferior opponents to protect them from injury, but he wouldn't do it. Sure, he'd pull them out in the second half after they had a big lead, but he would never take an easy win for granted and bench them the entire game! Dabo has always said that you can't coach with a fear of injuries and trying to avoid them. Well, it appears as if that philosophy has changed in his 13th full season as the head coach. Dabo told me on Wednesday night that Kobe Pace, who suffered a concussion in the first half at Louisville last week, would be ready to play on Saturday. He also gave no indication that there was anything wrong with Will Shipley, who was not listed as unavailable on our pregame report. Yet neither player took a snap in the game. When I asked Dabo about it after the game, he said that Pace didn't practice all week and Shipley had hurt his foot. But that's not what Dabo told me on Wednesday. They were both dressed, and Dabo said that they could have played "in an emergency," but in my opinion, they would have both played if it had been any ACC opponent rather than a 1-8 UConn team. I believe Dabo didn't want to risk them getting injured in a game he knew he would win easily without them. And who could blame him? NFL coaches have done this for years after clinching playoff spots, and college coaches have done it too. And the way this season has gone for the Tigers, how could it not have gotten in Dabo's head? Every week, it's been at least one new starter going down with an injury. Last week, it was Pace with a concussion and Booth with a stinger. Today it was Justyn Ross. It is interesting, though, that after 13 seasons of throwing caution to the wind and playing the Trevor Lawrences and Travis Etiennes when there was literally no need, Dabo has pulled a 180. It's a direct commentary on how insanely plagued the Tigers have been with injuries this season, possibly more than any team in history.
With Shipley and Pace out, Rencher and Mafah got to show what they could do, and it wasn't vey impressive. Against a bad defense, Mafah averaged 2.9 yards per carry for 49 yards and a touchdown. Rencher averaged 2.6 for 37 yards and fumbled on the goal line for a touch back in the fourth quarter. The good news is that Shipley and Pace got some rest and will be ready to go against Wake next. The bad news is that this offense is still very much a work-in-progress and could have used a game like this as a tune-up for next week's crucial game! It's a double-edge sword, so let's hope Dabo made the right call.
The game certainly had a strange start. UConn won the toss and elected to receive the ball, which is an absolute first. Every other opponent that's won the toss in Death Valley this season has deferred and put the Tigers on offense first. Well, that deviation certainly paid off because after muffing the kickoff, the UConn return man took it 100 yards for a touchdown. How many times have we seen that happen? It's like it throws off the timing of the entire coverage unit. Dabo told me after the game that they have a player designated to prevent just that from happening, but he was overzealous and wasn't at home to make the tackle. Then in the fourth quarter, the exact same thing almost happened! The return man muffed the kick and took it 76 yards to the Tigers' 24! In that case, it was the backups in on coverage, and they just did a lousy job against a very dangerous return man. If I were UConn, I'd tell the return man to drop every kickoff for the rest of the season! The first two touchdowns of the game would come from special teams, as the Tigers would take a 10-7 lead on a fake field goal, run in by holder Will Swinney.
The second big kickoff return by UConn didn't hurt the Tigers, even after a penalty placed the ball at the 12 yard line, because the backups were able to keep the Huskies out of the end zone and get a turnover on downs. And defense was the story of the day for the Tigers. They were as good as they've been all season against an albeit bad offensive team. Even with the backups in for much of the game, the Tigers shutout the Huskies' offense and allowed just 99 total yards. UConn got more yards than that and their only score on the opening kickoff, for Pete's sake! The Tigers had 6 sacks for the second straight game at home and came up with 2 interceptions. Andrew Booth was out with a stinger, and Sheridan Jones stepped up in a big way at corner. He was responsible for one of the interceptions and almost came up with a fumble recovery on a backwards pass but was ruled out of bounds. Mario Goodrich had the other INT.
On offense, Taisun Phommachanh was inserted at quarterback much earlier than expected against his hometown team. I was expecting to see him in the second or third quarter after the Tigers had a substantial lead, but Dabo inserted him in the middle of a possession at the end of the first quarter. After a first down thanks to a pass interference call, Taisun relieved DJ. After a couple short runs, Taisun threw a beautiful 33-yard pass to freshman Dacari Collins and then ran the ball into the end zone on 1st and goal from the 3. It was serendipitous that Taisun was able to complete a big pass and get a score so quickly because he hurt his throwing shoulder and would not return. Taisun's little brother, Tyler, is a freshman backup QB for UConn. He started a couple games this season but injured his leg against Vandy and will miss the rest of the season. However, his coach let him make the trip down to see his big brother play, and Taisun had dozens of family and friends in the stands, so that was a nice treat for the Phommachanh clan.
DJ had another inconsistent, frustrating game. He made some awful, wobbly, off-target throws but also made some brilliant throws, and that has basically been the story of his sophomore season. He finished the game 21-44 for 241 yards and a touchdown with one interception. He stared down the receiver on that one, but it was also the fault of EJ Williams because he can't let the defender catch the ball. It's his responsibility to knock it out by any means possible, even if it's a penalty. DJ made one of the best throws you'll ever see on a 32-yard touchdown to his former high school teammate Beaux Collins. You literally couldn't have dropped it over his shoulder any better if you handed it to him. That's what's so frustrating about DJ is that you see him make a throw like that after badly missing so many easy ones. DJ was also the victim of a couple bad drops by receivers, something that has also been a chronic issue all season with this team. It seemed like DJ wasn't moving very well on his sprained knee. Dabo told me Wednesday night that he was running fine in practice and reiterated that after the game, but they sure didn't call any quarterback runs for him in the game.
The freshman "Collins twins" are really starting to emerge with all the injuries to Ngata, Ladson, Williams and now Ross. Beaux went over 100 yards for the first time in his career last week with a touchdown at Louisville and had another long TD against UConn. Dacari had by far his biggest game against UConn with 6 catches for 97 yards. Ajou has frankly been a disappointment this season because I thought he'd have a breakout year based on everything Dabo was telling us in August and what I saw with my own eyes at practice. He's had a couple opportunities, but Dabo said the freshmen have just passed him by. Freshman TE Jake Briningstool made a nice catch on a jump ball for his first career touchdown. He's seen a lot more playing time in the past few games with Galloway out for the season. TE Sage Ennis was also injured against UConn, so Luke Price got into the game and made a big catch to convert a fourth down.
Sophomore QB Hunter Helms entered in the third quarter and went 3-8 passing. He had a nice 32-yard completion to Max May, who would have scored if the turf monster hadn't tripped him up. Helms drove the offense to the UConn 3-yard line, but Rencher fumbled just short of the goal line on 3rd and goal. Freshman Billy Wiles came in for the last couple possessions and had the TD pass to Briningstool.
Other than the coverage unit, special teams were a bright spot for the Tigers. Potter was 3-3 on field goals, including a pair from 49 yards, and holder Will Swinney ran 6 yards for a fake field goal touchdown. Dabo said that he saw an opportunity for the fake in film study, and everything lined up perfectly for it. The Tigers executed it perfectly, and it gave them their first lead of the game. Spiers also had a couple nice punts.
It was gorgeous weather for Military Appreciation Day, and nobody honors the military better than Clemson does! Trenton Simpson had the honor of running the flag down The Hill, and he had a nice moment on the field during a timeout with his father, who is in the military. For those who weren't there, the video below is from the halftime tribute in Death Valley.
Be sure to click HERE to check back on Sunday evening for an update on Justyn Ross and Taisun Phommachanh. I'll have the entire audio from our Zoom call with Dabo posted there. In the meantime, post-game interviews, notes and highlights are below!
WITH THE WIN...
Clemson won its 33rd consecutive home game to extend its school record for both the longest home winning streak and longest home unbeaten streak in school history (as well as extend the nation’s longest active home winning streak). Of the 131 players on Clemson’s 2021 roster, 126 have never experienced a home loss in their Clemson careers. Five sixth-year “super seniors” on Clemson’s 2021 roster were on the 2016 team that recovered from a home loss to Pitt by winning the national championship that season.
Clemson tied 1900-03 Harvard, 1901-06 Nebraska and 1995-2000 Marshall (33 each) for the 15th-longest home winning streak in FBS history.
Clemson won its 24th consecutive non-conference home game to extend the longest such winning streak in program history. Clemson's last home loss in non-conference play was in 2012.
Clemson is now 1-0 all-time against UConn.
Clemson improved to 64-38-4 all-time in its first meeting with its 106 all-time opponents, including a 15-1 mark in first meetings since 2003. Clemson has won 17 of its last 19 games when making its all-time debut against a new opponent.
Clemson improved to 30-6-2 against FBS independents since the NCAA split Division I into the divisions now known as the Football Bowl Subdivision and Football Championship Subdivision in 1978.
Clemson won its 13th straight game against FBS independents dating to 1988. (Note: Clemson's loss to Notre Dame in 2020 came during Notre Dame's lone year of ACC membership.)
Clemson earned its 775th win in program history. Clemson became the 14th FBS program to accomplish the feat.
Dabo Swinney earned his 147th career win in his 14th season (including an interim stint in 2008) to tie Tom Osborne (147) for the fourth-most wins through the first 15 seasons of a coaching career in FBS history.
Clemson remained undefeated on ACC Network broadcasts since appearing in the channel's first live game broadcast in the 2019 season opener. Clemson went 4-0 on ACCN in 2019, 3-0 on ACCN in 2020 and is now 4-0 on the network this season.
Clemson improved to 115-13 against AP-unranked teams under Dabo Swinney. Clemson is 92-3 against unranked teams since the start of the 2012 season.
Clemson improved to 74-6 in regular season play since the start of the 2015 season. All six of Clemson's regular season losses in that span have been decided by a final margin of 10 or fewer points.
Clemson has now won 17 of its last 18 November games.
Clemson has now won 93 of its last 95 games, including each of its last 56, when leading at halftime.
Clemson is now 115-2 since 2011 when leading after three quarters.
Clemson now has a 113-2 record when totaling more first downs than its opponent since 2011.
Clemson has now won 96 of its last 97 games when holding teams under 23 points (dates to 2010), including 89 straight prior to a season-opening 10-3 loss to Georgia in 2021.
Clemson and UConn met in football for the first time in history. It marked the fourth time in the last five years Clemson has faced an opponent for the first time in school history, joining series-opening wins against Kent State (2017), Georgia Southern (2018) and Charlotte (2019).
UConn became Clemson’s 106th different opponent in program history.
The only points Clemson allowed came on a return on the game’s opening kickoff. Clemson recorded its fourth game of the season in which it did not allow an offensive touchdown. The only team in the country with more is No. 1 Georgia (five).
Clemson held UConn to 99 total yards, Clemson’s first time holding an opponent below 100 total yards since 2014 vs. South Carolina State (44).
Clemson held UConn to 0-for-14 on third downs. It represented Clemson’s first time holding an opponent to zero third-down conversions since 1992 against North Carolina (0-for-8). It was Clemson’s third time holding an opponent without a third-down conversion since 1978 (1992 vs. North Carolina, 1978 vs. Wake Forest).
Clemson recorded six sacks, its most since last year’s ACC Championship Game vs. Notre Dame (six). Clemson’s season-high in sacks entering the game was five, set against Florida State in Clemson’s most recent home game prior to Saturday. Clemson has 11 sacks in its last two home games.
Clemson has now recorded at least four sacks against three consecutive opponents for the first time since a four-game streak across the final two games of 2019 and first two games of 2020.
Clemson held UConn to 116 passing yards and has now held three consecutive opponents below 200 passing yards for the first time since the Miami (Fla.), Georgia Tech and Syracuse games last season.
Clemson ran 99 plays, a season high and its most since running 99 against Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game to end the 2016 season.
Clemson has now scored at least 30 points in three consecutive games for the first time since the first 11 games of the 2020 season.
Clemson led in first downs gained, 26-6, and its plus-20 margin in first downs was its highest in a game since 2020 at Georgia Tech.
Clemson held UConn to -17 rushing yards, tied for the fifth-fewest allowed by Clemson in a game all-time. It matched the 1948 Furman game for the fifth-fewest and was the fewest allowed by Clemson since 2018 (-21 at Florida State).
The game marked the second time Clemson has held an opponent to negative rushing yardage under Dabo Swinney. It is the ninth time Clemson has accomplished the feat since 1954.
Clemson played four quarterbacks, with the quartet combining for 27-for-57 for 347 passing yards with two touchdowns through the air.
Clemson’s 347 passing yards were a season high and its most since throwing for 400 yards in last year’s Sugar Bowl. Clemson’s 57 pass attempts were also a season high and were its most since the 2016 season finale against Alabama (57).
Clemson has now thrown multiple touchdown passes in consecutive games for the first time since last year's ACC Championship Game and Sugar Bowl.
Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei completed 21-of-44 passes for 241 yards with one touchdown and one interception. His 241 yards were a season high and his 44 attempts tied his career high set at Notre Dame last season.
Quarterback Taisun Phommachanh recorded his first career rushing touchdown on a three-yard run in the second quarter.
Phommachanh was playing against a UConn team for which his brother, Tyler, plays quarterback. Tyler was unavailable to play for the Huskies on Saturday following a knee injury suffered earlier in the season.
Wide receiver Dacari Collins posted career highs with six receptions for 97 yards.
Wide receiver Beaux Collins caught a 32-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, giving him a touchdown catch in back-to-back games for the first time in his career. He became the first Clemson true freshman with a touchdown in back-to-back games since Justyn Ross against Notre Dame and Alabama in two games in the College Football Playoff to end the 2018 season.
Clemson completed passes to 14 different receivers, tied for the fifth-most in a game in the Dabo Swinney era. It was Clemson’s most since completing passes to 17 different receivers at Georgia Tech last season.
Running back Phil Mafah scored his second career rushing touchdown on a two-yard run in the third quarter. With his only previous score coming at Pittsburgh, it was his first career touchdown in Death Valley.
Tight end Jake Briningstool recorded a career-long 31-yard reception on a pass from Uiagalelei in the second quarter.
Briningstool later scored on a 25-yard pass from quarterback Billy Wiles in the fourth quarter.
The touchdown was the first in the careers of both Briningstool and Wiles.
With the touchdown pass by Wiles, Clemson has now had a walk-on quarterback throw a touchdown pass in back-to-back seasons, as Hunter Helms threw for two touchdowns at Georgia Tech in 2020.
Wide receiver Justyn Ross extended his streak of consecutive games with a reception to 37 to pass Jerry Butler (36 consecutive games from 1975-78) for sole possession of the third-longest streak in school history.
Cornerback Mario Goodrich recorded the game’s first takeaway on an interception in the second quarter. It was his fourth career interception and his first of the season.
Cornerback Sheridan Jones added his first interception of the season in the third quarter. It was his second career interception and his first since last October against Miami (Fla.).
The game was Clemson’s second multi-interception game of the season and its first since Oct. 2 vs. Boston College.
Defensive tackle Myles Murphy recorded 1.5 sacks, the third multi-sack game of the season.
Murphy forced a fumble on a full sack in the second quarter, his first forced fumble of the season and the fourth of his career.
Defensive tackle Tyler Davis recorded his first full sack of the season to push his career sack total to 9.0.
Defensive tackle Ruke Orhorhoro pushed his season-high sack total to 2.5 with a full sack.
With a second-quarter sack, linebacker TrentonSimpson became the first Clemson player with at least half a sack in four straight games since Clelin Ferrell in 2018.
Defensive end K.J. Henry added his first full sack of the season in the second quarter.
Placekicker B.T. Potter went 3-for-3 on field goals and 4-for-4 on PATs.
Potter, who was 3-for-3 on field goals last week, has now kicked at least three field goals in consecutive games for the first time in his career.
During the game, Potter (312 career points) became the eighth player in school history with 300 career points.
Potter set a season-long with a 49-yard field goal in the first quarter and added another 49-yard field goal in the second quarter.
During the game, Potter (312) passed Travis Zachery (300 from 1998-01), Nelson Welch (301 from 1991-94) and C.J. Spiller (308 from 2006-09) to move into fifth on Clemson's all-time leaderboard for career points. Passing Welch would also push Potter into fourth in Clemson history in career kicking points.
Punter Will Spiers started his 66th game to add to his school record for career starts. Wide receiver/holder Will Swinney's career total as Clemson's primary holder parallels Spiers' run as starting punter.
Spiers, Swinney and linebacker James Skalski each played in their 66th career game to extend their school record for most career games played.
Swinney gave Clemson its first lead on a six-yard rushing touchdown on a fake field goal in the first quarter.
The rush came on Swinney’s first carry of the season and the fourth of his career.
The touchdown was the second total touchdown of Swinney’s career, joining an eight-yard touchdown reception against Louisville in 2018.
Running back Darien Rencher recorded a 32-yard kickoff return in the first quarter on his first career kickoff return.
Captains for the contest were cornerback Mario Goodrich, wide receiver Max May, running back Darien Rencher and defensive end Regan Upshaw.
Linebacker Trenton Simpson led Clemson down the Hill with the American flag on Military Appreciation Day. His father, Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy D. Simpson, served 17 overseas tours since 1994 before retiring this past May after a decorated career with the Army Rangers.