UConn football manhandled by ACC heavyweight Clemson

Clemson’s Tyler Davis, right, sacks UConn quarterback Jack Zergiotis during the first quarter on Saturday in South Carolina.

Clemson’s Tyler Davis, right, sacks UConn quarterback Jack Zergiotis during the first quarter on Saturday in South Carolina.

Jacob Kupferman / Getty Images

The hiring of Jim Mora brought all sorts of good vibes to a program hoping to move on from Randy Edsall’s failures and stale talking points and reestablish itself.

That transformation won’t happen overnight, though.

Saturday proved once again just how far UConn has to go. With their newly named head coach looking on, the Huskies were bullied 44-7 by Clemson at Memorial Stadium.

Brian Brewton returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, giving the Huskies a moment to savor before Clemson asserted its dominance. The Tigers (7-3) scored on six of their nine drives in the first half and built a 30-7 lead. Only three of those possessions lasted longer than six plays.

“They competed and fought,” UConn interim coach Lou Spanos said. “Obviously, we’ve got to do better.”

Clemson’s DJ Uiagalelei completed 21 of 44 passes for 241 yards, with one touchdown and one interception, despite a sprained knee. Taisun Phommachanh — a Bridgeport native and the older brother of UConn quarterback Tyler Phommachanh — ran for a 3-yard score in his only drive before leaving with a shoulder injury. The Tigers’ third- and fourth-string quarterbacks also got snaps.

UConn’s offense, meanwhile, failed to do much of anything. Sophomore Jack Zergiotis threw for only 90 yards and a pair of interceptions on 9 of 21 passing in his first start since a Sept. 4 loss to Holy Cross. Steven Krajewski (6 of 12, 26 yards) didn’t fare any better off the bench.

“They did an outstanding job,” Spanos said of Clemson’s defense, which forced two turnovers and notched six sacks. “(Defensive coordinator Brent) Venables did an outstanding job disguising and also rushing four. We didn’t do a good job of blocking. We got too many sacks, too many pressures, too many hits.”

Clemson outgained the Huskies 476-99 and held them to negative-17 yards rushing. The Huskies also committed 11 penalties for 70 yards.

It was UConn’s (1-9) 12th straight FBS loss dating to last season.

Clemson cut into the lead on its first possession with a 49-yard field goal, one of three by J.T. Potter on the day. The Tigers then scored on a fake field goal, with holder Will Swinney running it in from the 6, to go up 10-7 on their next drive.

Potter also converted kicks of 49 and 30 yards to push it to 23-7, and Beaux Collins added a 32-yard touchdown 15 seconds before halftime to make it 30-7.

Mora, who joined the team Friday in South Carolina, the day after being introduced as Edsall’s successor, watched some of the loss from the sidelines. Many are still getting to know him, but already his arrival is generating excitement around the program.

“I didn’t know much about Coach Mora, actually,” Brewton said. “I kind of looked him up when we got the news that he was going to be our next head coach. We didn’t really speak to him before the game, but when he told us (Thursday) he was going to be our coach, he told us, ‘Go out there and fight.’

“He can’t wait to be with us next year. I feel like he’s going to be a great coach.”

Spanos was his defensive coordinator for two seasons at UCLA.

“I’ve got great respect for Coach Mora,” he said.

UConn will be back on the road next Saturday to face UCF.

dbonjour@ctpost.com; @DougBonjour