Win the opener ✅— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) September 6, 2022
Enjoy The Most Exciting 25 Seconds of Game 1! pic.twitter.com/g82cUeAvo8
Clemson vs. Georgia Tech score, takeaways: Tigers offense overcomes slow start to win big in Atlanta
Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei shook off early mistakes to give Clemson its first win of the 2022 season
ATLANTA -- Overcoming a sloppy and slow start that has been all too familiar, No. 4 Clemson topped Georgia Tech 41-10 on Monday night as the Tigers look to return to the top of the ACC after falling short of expectations in 2021. Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, who was the subject of offseason scrutiny after a lackluster sophomore campaign, was 19 of 32 passing for 209 yards and a touchdown. The junior also added a massive 9-yard touchdown run with 1:43 to play in the third quarter to push the lead to 24-10, effectively putting the game out of reach for the Yellow Jackets.
A scoreless game after one quarter with both sets of offenses struggling out of the gate, the first spark of the night came from Clemson's Carson Donnelly, who blocked a Georgia Tech punt and returned it to the 5-yard line. That set up a four-play touchdown drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by Will Shipley to finally put the Tigers on the scoreboard.
Uiagalelei cranked things up on the next drive when he led the Tigers on an eight-play march and tossed his lone touchdown pass of the night -- a 6-yard pass to Beaux Collins in the back of the end zone to make it 14-0.
Georgia Tech had its chances, though. Quarterback Jeff Sims found E.J. Jenkins for a 13-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter to cut the score to 14-10. However, the Tigers' suffocating defensive front prevented the Yellow Jackets from sustaining drives for the majority of the night. Sims finished 23 of 36 passing for 164 yards, one touchdown, one interception and 41 yards rushing.
Here are the top takeaways from Monday night's game.
Clemson has a QB battle
OK, so it won't be "official" until the end of September after Furman and Louisiana Tech come to town, but anyone watching could see it. Despite decent stats on paper, Uiagalelei remains cumbersome in an offense that used to be a force under past quarterbacks like Trevor Lawrence, Deshaun Watson and Tajh Boyd.
Uiagalelei, who had a fumble early in the first quarter, was essentially relegated to a "one read and bail" quarterback for the majority of the night. Though he had pressure in his face quite a bit, which did force him off of his mark, he didn't look much different than he did last year when he completed 55.6% of his passes and threw more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (9).
The Clemson crowd was yearning for freshman Cade Klubnik, and they got their wish on their team's final drive. Klubnik, a five-star prospect and the No. 6 overall player in the most recent recruiting class, was 4 of 6 passing for 50 yards and a touchdown -- a beautiful 3-yard touchdown pass to Will Taylor to cap off a 10-play, 66-yard drive.
Yes, the game was in the books at that point. Still, when you combine the first three-plus quarters from Uiagalelei with his lack of production last season, a full-time switch — or at least a prolonged experiment — has to at least be considered.
Cade Klubnik with his first career TD pass and DJ Uiagalelei was LOVING it 🤩 pic.twitter.com/QnZ8cMH6Zx— ACC Network (@accnetwork) September 6, 2022
Clemson's defensive front is the real deal
The Tigers were widely regarded as having one of the most talented defenses in the country, specifically up front with Bryan Bresee, Tyler Davis, Myles Murphy and K.J. Henry along the line. They lived up to that hype on Monday.
Those four lived in the Yellow Jackets backfield, forcing seven tackles for loss and allowing just 4.5 yards per play. On the night, the Tigers defense gave up just two third-down conversations on 16 attempts.
Henry was the star of the show with six tackles, 2.5 of which were for a loss, one sack and one forced fumble. The senior was a force from the outset when he hit Sims on the first play of the game, which resulted in an interception by Andrew Mukuba.
Tonight was Henry's night, and opposing offensive coordinators will have to focus more attention on him moving forward. That will just open up even more room for the rest of his teammates up front to do damage.
CLEMSON PICKS OFF GEORGIA TECH ON THE FIRST PLAY OF THE GAME❗ pic.twitter.com/AwAk6IUaAG— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) September 6, 2022
The offensive line needs work, however
Clemson's defensive line was a force, but the same can't be said for the other side of the line of scrimmage. The Tigers only gave up one sack, but the stats don't always tell the whole story. Uiagalelei was running for his life and the Yellow Jackets, oftentimes only bringing four, were disrupting the running game behind the line all night.
The offensive line was a concern coming into the season, and coach Dabo Swinney has to feel even worse about it exiting tonight's game. The Tigers have tough conference matchups with Florida State and Miami — two defenses that looked stout in Week 1 — and a trip to Notre Dame still on the docket. Those could be tough games for Clemson in the trenches.
If that problem doesn't get fixed, it's hard to picture this team as a real threat to make the College Football Playoff.
Geoff Collins must prove he deserves to stay
Collins is now 9-26 as the head coach of the Yellow Jackets, and tonight's game against Clemson was a perfect example of why he has been a disappointment. Simply put, some of decisions were flat-out awful.
In one of his more egregious choices, Collins chose to take a 10-second runoff to put the clock at 33 seconds at the end of the first half when Clemson had already lined up to punt despite having all three of his timeouts in his back pocket. Then, he burned all three of his second-half timeouts before the 11-minute mark of the fourth quarter.
What's more, Collins took the ball out of Sims' hands on a fourth-and-2 while down 14 points at Georgia Tech's 42-yard line early in the fourth quarter, even though Sims was the team's leading rusher at the time. Clemson was clearly the better team on Monday, but even a few better situational calls may have made things more interesting. Those types of decisions could be more costly in tighter games this year.
MOOD pic.twitter.com/WM0qSA4T1L— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) September 6, 2022
The boys were buzzin' tonight in the 404! pic.twitter.com/rzTJTrDRQ7— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) September 6, 2022
1-0 pic.twitter.com/ZukGudK6ev— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) September 6, 2022
Final: Clemson 41, Georgia Tech 10— Georgia Tech Football (@GeorgiaTechFB) September 6, 2022
.@CadeKlubnikQB + @willtaylor_10 = TOUCHDOWN!— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) September 6, 2022
Tigers now lead, 41-10! pic.twitter.com/DdUYNasx6h
Now entering the game, @cadeklubnikQB 👏 pic.twitter.com/DDRRb7ozGL— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) September 6, 2022
BOOM!@willshipley2021 carries it into the endzone for his second touchdown of the night! pic.twitter.com/bqS9V3wjCQ— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) September 6, 2022
.@wadewoodaz_ blocks the punt!— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) September 6, 2022
For those keeping score at home, that's 2️⃣ blocked punts for the Tigers tonight! pic.twitter.com/Brz2tjVbOa
+3@btpotter10 gives us a 27-10 lead midway through the 4th quarter! pic.twitter.com/VSGzcIpqHM— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) September 6, 2022
Clemson extends its lead
8:45 Q4: No. 4 Clemson 27, Georgia Tech 10
The Tigers stopped Georgia Tech on fourth-and-2 on their own 42, and quickly capitalized with a 31-yard field goal by B.T. Potter six plays later to make it a three-score game. The second half has been a grind for the Tigers offense, but it has been clear that they didn't feel the need to get too creative based on how their defense has played. Georgia Tech is going to have to take a ton of risks to get back in this one.
👀 https://t.co/YUXrHDVeqG pic.twitter.com/wxbrOjZYk4— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) September 6, 2022
15 more minutes pic.twitter.com/m7G4Te2S7C— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) September 6, 2022
Finish 𝘀𝘁𝗿𝗼𝗻𝗴 #4the404 /// #CLEMvsGT pic.twitter.com/p8j086BHQl— Georgia Tech Football (@GeorgiaTechFB) September 6, 2022
WE CU @djuiagalelei !! pic.twitter.com/BWw56ZA5ff— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) September 6, 2022
DJ Uiagalelei caps off the best drive of the night
1:18 Q2: No. 4 Clemson 24, Georgia Tech 10
Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei took off on the ground and scored from nine yards out to cap off a nine-play, 76-yard drive. It was a great answer for a Clemson offense that had been disjointed on offense essentially all game. They cranked up the tempo, which seemed to keep Tech's defensive line at bay despite it having success on Clemson's offensive line for the majority of the evening.
The kick is good!@btpotter10 makes it 17-10 after splitting the uprights from 29 yards out! 👏 pic.twitter.com/ElLYnmBJSm— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) September 6, 2022
Clemson settles for a field goal
5:41 Q3: No. 4 Clemson 17, Georgia Tech 10
B.T. Potter hit 29-yard field goal to make it a seven-point game in what was a much-needed drive for a Clemson offense that simply can't get going. Even though it was a long drive, the Tigers offensive line still had a difficult time blocking a Georgia Tech defensive front that has been mixing up its looks in a variety of ways -- especially in the second half. The defensive staff clearly sees a weakness with communication.
🙅♂️ @simsmyles #4the404 /// #CLEMvsGT pic.twitter.com/TLafvFibza— Georgia Tech Football (@GeorgiaTechFB) September 6, 2022
JEFF SIMS 🎯🎯 @GeorgiaTechFB pic.twitter.com/jqSKnUlsAE— ACC Network (@accnetwork) September 6, 2022
We're in this.— Georgia Tech Football (@GeorgiaTechFB) September 6, 2022
📺 ESPN pic.twitter.com/TDbB0FndwY
That's a Jackets TOUCHDOWN ‼️@georgiatechfb x #CFAKickoff— Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game (@CFAKickoffGame) September 6, 2022
Presented by @Kia pic.twitter.com/Fxf523hxPQ
Sims with a dime for six
9:47 Q3: No. 4 Clemson 14, Georgia Tech 10
Georgia Tech quarterback Jeff Sims came out of the locker room hot, engineering a nine-play, 57-yard drive that culminated with a beautiful 13-yard touchdown to E.J. Jenkins on a corner route to the right side. Sims was 3 of 5 for 31 yards on the drive, and is 20 of 27 for 142 yards overall. The Jackets offense has been disjointed at times, but Sims had more time in the pocket and it paid off on that drive.
Sims hits Jenkins for the Yellow Jackets' first TD of the season! @GeorgiaTechFB | #ACCFootball— ACC Football (@ACCFootball) September 6, 2022
📺: @espn pic.twitter.com/zi4bfQ5z22
TOUCHDOWN!!!!@JeffSims_10 🎯 @AllDayEJ #4the404 /// #CLEMvsGT pic.twitter.com/5FRMTsaYL4— Georgia Tech Football (@GeorgiaTechFB) September 6, 2022
✌️ sacks for @good_vib3z #4the404 /// #CLEMvsGT pic.twitter.com/bAaVMAfZLl— Georgia Tech Football (@GeorgiaTechFB) September 6, 2022
First half 📸's pic.twitter.com/gWEQxrVAg7— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) September 6, 2022
At the half! pic.twitter.com/NmSqG0yNst— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) September 6, 2022
Halftime: No. 4 Clemson 14, Georgia Tech 3
Here are your halftime stats
Halftime.#4the404 /// #CLEMvsGT pic.twitter.com/MzThsBmgDL— Georgia Tech Football (@GeorgiaTechFB) September 6, 2022
Josef Martínez is #4the404 👏🏼@GeorgiaTechFB @GTAthletics | #CFAKickoff pic.twitter.com/YJRT4VaFrx— Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game (@CFAKickoffGame) September 6, 2022