ATLANTA — DJ Uiagalelie threw for one touchdown and ran for another, overcoming a sluggish start in the season opener as No. 4 Clemson pulled away for a 41-10 victory over Georgia Tech on Monday night.
Uiagalelie completed 19 of 32 passes for 209 yards, including a 6-yard scoring play to Beaux Collins that gave the Tigers a two-touchdown lead in the first half.
Georgia Tech, looking to improve on three straight three-win seasons that have put coach Geoff Collins on the hot seat, kept it closer than expected much of the way.
But the Yellow Jackets couldn’t overcome two blocked punts, both of which led to short touchdown runs by Will Shipley.
Georgia Tech pulled within 14-10 on an impressive drive in the third quarter, culminating with Jeff Sims tossing a 13-yard TD pass to 6-foot-7 transfer E.J. Jenkins.
But Uiagalelie, in what was probably the play of the game, appeared headed for a sack when he was cornered by two Georgia Tech defenders on the third-and-4. But the quarterback managed to stay upright just long enough to flip a lateral to Shipley, who rumbled 10 yards for a first down that kept the Clemson offense on the field.
The Tigers went on to drive 74 yards for a touchdown that finally buried the Yellow Jackets. Uiagalelie ran it in from 9 yards out to push Clemson’s lead to 24-10.
Clemson scored its first touchdown on special teams after both teams had early struggles on offense.
Carson Donnelly broke through the line untouched and smothered a punt by David Shanahan. Brannon Specter scooped up the ball at the Georgia Tech 18 and took it down the 5 before he was knocked out bounds.
The Yellow Jackets put up a stout goal-line stand, but Shipley finally ran in on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
Sims threw an interception on Georgia Tech’s first play of the season, an ill-advised deep throw while under pressure that was picked off by Andrew Mukuba.
The Yellow Jackets’ third-year quarterback is considered a key to the team’s chances of a turnaround season, so much so that Collins brought in Chip Long as offensive coordinator and Chris Weinke as quarterbacks coach with the specific goal of getting more consistent play out of Sims.
He showed flashes both throwing and running, but it wasn’t nearly enough to pull off the upset. Sims threw for 164 yards and led the team in rushing with 41 yards.
The second Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game of the Labor Day weekend was played before a crowd at 47,712 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where the upper deck was closed off to prevent it from looking like a Clemson home game.
As it was, at least half the crowd appeared to be decked out in orange.