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Clemson Uiagalelei

Where Does Clemson’s Offense Go From Here?

  • Ryan Fowler
  • October 25, 2022
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Don’t let their ranking in the AP Top 25 fool you, the Clemson Tigers have a LONG way to go. A unit led by what was supposed to be the ‘next big thing’ at quarterback, their 8-0 record has masked an overwhelmingly large amount of questions that still remain unanswered now three-quarters of the way through the season.

Led by quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, it’s been a mixed bag under center for Trevor Lawrence’s heir apparent. A five-star talent by way of St. John Bosco High School—one of the most prestigious prep programs in the country—“Big Cinco” has been everything but the sure thing he was looked upon to be just a few years ago. A big-armed talent that was initially pegged as a slight step down from Lawrence, Uiagalelei’s draft stock has been a roller coaster the last few seasons. His dominant performance against Notre Dame in 2020 seems like a lifetime ago, as the ebbs and flows he experienced this fall have thrown a wrench into not only his potential career on Sundays but the immediate success of Clemson this fall.

Despite Clemson’s unblemished record and better overall performances from Uiagalelei in spurts this year, Saturday’s contest against Syracuse highlighted the inefficiencies that still remain in his game. Uiagalelei went 13-of-21 for a season-low 138 yards, two interceptions, a lost fumble, and a career-worst 10.7 QBR. Head coach Dabo Swinney pulled the plug on his starter—again—in favor of freshman Cade Klubnik in the second half. 

It’s been the story of Uiagalelei all season long. Is Clemson winning? Yes, that remains above all. But the goal—as it has been for some time—doesn’t settle on a conference title, and Swinney isn’t satisfied until his ticket to the College Football Playoff is punched. 

Uiagalelei is much more of a ‘thrower’ than a ‘quarterback’ right now—there are MASSIVE differences between the two. Similar to a ‘thrower’ and a ‘pitcher’ in baseball, the little things in Uiagalelei’s game have not improved when he’s asked to dissect defenses inside the pocket. Sure, we can look to his massive performances against Wake Forest and Boston College if we wanted to chase positives, but in Clemson’s first big test offensively this year against a Syracuse defense scattered with NFL talent, Uiagalelei failed miserably. And if it weren’t for running back Will Shipley, Clemson wouldn’t start the week of Halloween undefeated like they are today.

This has raised questions about the future of the Tigers’ offense. Following the win, Swinney mentioned the Tigers are “D.J.’s team”, but as a head coach tasked with putting the best product on the field each and every weekend, the play of Syracuse’s defense—the first legit unit they’ve faced all year— exposed a knot Clemson must untangle quickly if they eye their seventh trip to the CFP.

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Ryan Fowler