It went almost unnoticed last week, but with its victory against Louisville, Clemson became bowl-eligible for the 16th consecutive season. The Tiger have won 10 or more games for 10 consecutive seasons, so getting the six wins needed to receive a bowl berth isn’t a fist-pumping achievement.
UConn (1-8) isn’t expected to offer Clemson (6-3) much of a challenge. But the Huskies do offer the Tigers an opportunity.
Clemson will not receive an invitation into the College Football Playoffs for the first time since 2014, and it faces a daunting uphill climb to return to the ACC Championship Game.
What’s left for the Tigers is to earn a berth in the best bowl possible. Prestige and location are key words there. Clemson’s reputation as one of the top programs of the past decade will help, but so will putting together impressive wins. Those have been difficult for Clemson to achieve this season.
UConn offers the chance for one.
The Huskies are an FBS Independent, a status only Notre Dame can make sound like a good thing, and announced Thursday that veteran NFL and college coach Jim Mora would become UConn’s third head coach of 2021. He takes over in the offseason, which for the Huskies begins at the end of the month. He replaces Lou Spanos, who has been the interim coach since Randy Edsall’s retirement in September.
Clemson likely will balance the importance of an impressive win with the need to limit the playing time of Tigers whose availability next week against Wake Forest is more crucial.
It should be interesting.
3:28 p.m.| Clemson reserves put on the finishing touch
In the fourth quarter, Clemson turned the game over to the walk-ons and rarely used reserves, and they provided a late thrill.
Walk-on quarterback Billy Wiles capped the game with an arching 25-yard pass to Jake Briningstool, a 6-foot-6 freshman tight end who outleapt a defensive back for a touchdown. Briningstool also had a 31-yard reception from D.J. Uiagalelei.
Jonathan Weitz converted the point-after try for his first career point.
Clemson 44, UConn 7, 3:36, fourth quarter
2:59 p.m.| Another quarter, another injury for Clemson
Injuries have ravaged the Clemson offense this season, and Saturday’s game hasn’t changed that bad luck.
Wide receiver Justyn Ross and backup quarterback Taisun Phommachanh went out during the UConn game, and running backs Will Shipley and Kobe Pace sat out nursing earlier injuries. Starting quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei has played despite favoring his injured right knee, and reserve running back Darien Rencher briefly went to the sideline.
But late in the third quarter, the defense was dealt an injury setback. Linebacker James Skalski went down after missing a diving tackle. After being attended by the training staff, he limped off, favoring his right leg.
2:25 p.m.| Clemson rides running back to open second half
With UConn stacking its defense close to the line in the first half, Clemson managed only 37 yards rushing on 17 carries. In the second half, the Tigers opened by committing to its running game, or at least its running back.
Phil Mafah, starting and getting expanded playing time with Will Shipley and Kobe Pace sidelined by injuries, touched the ball eight times in Clemson’s 11-play drive. He rushed six times for 28 yards and had two receptions for 26 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown run.
The Tigers started the possession at UConn’s 46 after the Huskies tried an unsuccessful onside kickoff to open the half.
Clemson 37, UConn 7, 10:20, third quarter
2:00 p.m.| Halftime: Clemson football leads, but there are concerns
Clemson leads by a comfortable 23 points at half despite another uneven performance and some troubling injuries on offense.
Luckily, the defense has more than made up for the offensive issues.
UConn’s only points were scored on a return of the opening kickoff. The Huskies have 41 yards total offense, including minus-49 yards rushing. The Tigers have six sacks of Jack Zergiotis for minus-44 yards.
UConn has only four first downs and is 0-for-7 on third down.
Clemson has rushed for only 37 yards on 17 carries. Uiagalelei, playing on an injured right knee, has not played well, though he finished the half strongly. He was 4-for-6 passing for all 88 yards in the drive, including a 32-yard touchdown to Beaux Collins.
Overall, he is 17-for-37 for 217 yards with an interception. The Tigers have 14 first downs but are only 3-for-12 on third down. They are 3-for-3 on fourth down, all on the first possession of the game.
But in addition to Uiagalelei’s obvious limitations because of the knee, star receiver Justyn Ross is on the sideline on crutches and a boot after a first-quarter injury and backup quarterback Taisun Phommachanh injured his right shoulder in the second quarter. Running backs Will Shipley and Kobe Pace and wide receiver Ajou Ajou have not played.
Clemson 30, UConn 7, halftime
1:23 p.m.| Uiagalelei returns for Clemson but clearly isn’t healthy
D.J. Uiagalelei returned to Clemson’s lineup after Taisun Phommachanh led the Tigers to a touchdown while spelling the starter, but he wasn’t exactly sharp.
His second pass was intercepted. Clemson’s defense stopped UConn on downs, and on the next possession, Uiagalelei had a 31-yard pass over the middle to tight end Jake Briningstool and a 12-yard swing pass to Darien Rencher, but he also was called for intentional grounding when he couldn’t move out of the pocket while under pressure.
The Tigers got points out of the series when B.T. Potter kicked his second 49-yard field goal of the game.
Potter converted another field goal — this one from 30 yards — on the next possession, set up by an interception by Mario Goodrich and featuring a return to quarterback by Taisun Phommachanh. Potter is 3-for-3 in the game.
Clemson 23, UConn 7, 6:30, second quarter.
12:50 p.m. | Taisun Phommachanh takes over at quarterback for Clemson football
After three plays of Clemson’s third series, Connecticut native Taisun Phommachanh entered the game at quarterback.
It may simply have been a pregame plan put into place, but starter D.J. Uiagalelei but looked very uncomfortable one week after spraining the posterior cruciate ligament on his right knee. He was was 9-for-17 for 90 yards passing and had not attempted a run.
Phommachanh carried on each of his first two snaps, gaining 13 yards and a first down before the quarter ended. He also became Clemson’s leading rusher with the two carries.
On the first play of the second quarter, Phommachanh completed a 33-yard pass to Dacari Collins — Phommachanh’s longest completion of the season — and followed it with a 3-yard touchdown run.
Clemson 17, UConn 7, 14:31, second quarter
12:40 p.m.|Trickeration gives Clemson football the lead against UConn
Clemson’s running game was struggling and Justyn Ross hobbled off after a 25-yard catch and run, so when the Tigers’ second drive stalled at the UConn 6, Dabo Swinney uses a trick play.
B.T. Potter lined up for a 23-yard field goal attempt, but holder Will Swinney took the snap and ran off left guard for a touchdown.
It should be noted that through two series, neither Will Shipley or Kobe Pace has played a snap. Phil Mafah and Darien Rencher, who hadn’t had a carry since the S.C. State game, have combined for eight carries for 11 yards.
Clemson 10, UConn 7, 3:03, first quarter
12:21 p.m.| Who said this game was going to be easy for Clemson football?
Clemson responded to UConn’s touchdown return of the opening kickoff with a season-best 49-yard field goal by B.T. Potter, but the response was less than impressive.
The Tigers had to convert three times on fourth down, including on a 5-yard encroachment penalty against the Huskies, to move 34 yards.
Also concerning is that quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, playing after spraining his right knee last week, is not moving well.
UConn 7, Clemson 3, 1st quarter, 9:13
12:09 p.m.| Not a great start for Clemson football
I’m not sure how many watching the game expected Clemson to be trailing 15 seconds into the game.
UConn’s Brian Brewton bobbled the opening kickoff, which apparently threw the Tigers’ coverage timing. Bruton picked the ball up at the 2, cut left and other than perhaps a diving swipe at his legs, no one touched him as he ran down the sideline. He had the time and space to exchange to a high-five with teammate Tui Faumuina-Brown about 10 yards from the goal line.
UConn 7, Clemson 0, 14:15
This article originally appeared on Greenville News: Live updates: Injuries mount along with Clemson’s lead on UConn