Clemson is still waiting for DJ Uiagalelei to make the jump


DJ Uiagalelei

DJ Uiagalelei
Image: Getty Images

There’s usually a better idea from Clemson at this point in the season. Dabo Swinney isn’t afraid of a tough non-conference game, and the Tigers’ big non-ACC game at Notre Dame happens to be in early November of this year. Obviously, that would have been a better CV builder before the Irish dropped out of the top 25, but that’s beside the point.

The thing is, the Tigers haven’t faced anyone this season, with lopsided wins over Georgia Tech, Furman and Louisiana Tech. If the Yellow Jackets weren’t in such a state of disrepair, we could glean more information from the one game against a five-power opponent. That’s not the case as the Jackets were outscored in games by Clemson and Ole Miss by an aggregate of 83-10.

So it’s fair to say that Clemson didn’t play against anyone, and you might even add that those wins, as lopsided as the final scoreline might appear, weren’t particularly compelling given the opponent and the football expectations of Clemson. This week, the Tigers visit defending ACC champion No. 21 Wake Forest (I know, that was as weird for me to type as it was for you to read), and we’ll actually see if the team from Swinney deserves his top five ranking.

It’s not so much about talent as who is giving the ball to the talent. After a tough first year under center in 2021 by any school’s standards, starting quarterback DJ Uiagalelei entered this season as a starter with the caveat that he could be pushed by student Cade Klubnik. five-star freshman who was the No. 1 QB in his class and went undefeated as a starter in Texas high school football’s most competitive division.

Whether it was a slow start or a plot to keep fans from calling Klubnik, the Tigers only won the super frosh five series. After one possession in each of the Georgia Tech and Furman contests, it looked like Klubnik would have some free time for him with Clemson up 34-6 late in the third quarter against Louisiana Tech.

After a three-and-out, a failed drive at four plays and two Bulldog scores, Uiagalelei had to be reinserted as the lead was reduced to 34-20 and Swinney grew nervous. If you say, “Well, didn’t DJ give them the lead role?” He was 13-6 at the break, and Tech opened the second half by throwing picks on his first two drives that led to touchdowns from Tiger, including one on a single 32-yard run from Will. Shipley.

The longest play from scrimmage this year for the Tigers is a 41-yard pass. This Shipley score is the longest term. By comparison, the Demon Deacons have four guys with plays that long or longer, including a 68-yard completion, and eight guys with 20-or-longer plays to Clemson’s six. Granted Wake also played against below-par opponents and needed a save on a two-point conversion to beat Liberty last week, but he can still move the ball.

The Demon Deacons played well enough to put their backup to work. Mitch Griffis has 14 more attempts and 222 more yards than Klubnik. Clemson allows more yards per game passing (244.7) than he throws (243). Wake actually comes into this game with the highest average offensive production (434 yards per game versus 425).

Demon Deacon coach Dave Clawson and quarterback Sam Hartman stole the ACC last season, they’re already in sync and will score enough points to force Clemson to pitch. Longtime Tiger defensive coordinator Brent Venables is now Oklahoma’s coach. Furman completed hard passes and drives with well-crafted storylines, and ended up winning the 10-minute possession battle time when they visited Memorial Stadium.

A season ago, the Tigers beat the Deacs, 48-27, in Death Valley amid a six-game winning streak to end the season 10-3 after starting it 4-3. That means Uiagalelei has the team on a nine-game winning streak overall. In those wins, he’s 156 for 263 for 1,806 yards, 10 TD passes and six picks. That’s 200 yards per game, with a 59% completion rate. Only once in that span has he rushed for more than 36 yards — he had 62 rushing against La. Tech — and in no game has he rushed for 300 yards through the air. And these are victories we are talking about.

The Tigers haven’t lit early-season cupcakes in a way that convinces you that Uiagalelei has turned the corner, and they’ve failed to get any substantial Plan B reps. Going 3-0 is l he goal of most programs – it wasn’t for Clemson.

It’s a bigger game than you might think to start on Saturday, and I know how much that extra hour of tailgating helps on the East Coast. Winston-Salem should have good weather and better crowds. Who knows their defense, but who cares.

And now a word about Tennessee-Florida

The last time College Gameday came to Knoxville was in 2016, and it was also the last time these two rivals met as ranked opponents. The 14th-ranked Vols ended up beating the No. 19 Gators, 38-28, en route to a 9-4 record, finishing 22nd in the AP poll. It was also the last time UT finished the season in the top 25.

The meat of the SEC calendar comes after Saturday, with LSU, No. 8 Kentucky, No. 2 Alabama and No. 1 Georgia scheduled for four of the next five weeks. Good luck to Head Coach Josh Heupel and his team.

Hendon Hooker is a dynamic QB in this offense, and if they play like they’ve shown, it should be a Vols win. It seems like a decade ago, Gator QB Anthony Richardson led Florida over No. 7 Utah in the season opener, but that was still only September. He’s yet to throw for a score this season and has had four interceptions in the last two games.

The current Tennessee fan would see that and say, “Yeah, he’s due, and we’re screwed.” Calm. Remember your breathing techniques. You have this. ESPN is here. Brad Nessler, Gary Danielson and CBS are here. It’s your special day. What could go wrong? It’s only Florida.

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