The No. 4-ranked Clemson Tigers began their season in appropriate fashion by defeating Georgia Tech 41-10 on Monday. Tigers starting quarterback DJ Uiagalelei completed 19-of-32 passing attempts for 209 yards and a touchdown. Uiagalelei added 28 rushing yards and an additional score via 13 scrambles. He also lost a fumble.
The numbers don’t tell the complete story, however. Uiagalelei struggled mightily as a pure thrower of the football. He was inaccurate and inconsistent. Uiagalelei may find himself at risk of losing his starting job to freshman Cade Klubnik.
Klubnik entered the contest in garbage time and completed four-of-six passing attempts for 50 yards and a touchdown. It’s worth acknowledging that the majority of Klubnik’s dropbacks included designed rollouts. The training wheels remained on, which doesn’t indicate he’s close to overtaking Uiagalelei. But it’s not about what Klubnik did. It’s about what Uiagalelei didn’t do.
Uiagalelei simply didn’t flash necessary growth after experiencing a tumultuous season in 2021. Uiagalelei completed just 55.6% of his passing attempts in 13 regular-season appearances en route to averaging a pedestrian 172 passing yards per contest and throwing more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (nine). Accuracy and turnovers were persistent issues. The Inland Empire, California native battled both on Monday.
Both the process and results were eerily similar to last season. That’s simply unacceptable for a quarterback that has plenty to prove throughout the 2022 campaign.
Uiagalelei is struggling with all facets of playing quarterback. His anticipation of pressure is ineffective. His internal clock is all over the place. Uiagalelei has difficulty taking pre-snap reads and adjusting to post-snap execution. His pocket presence is erratic. Anticipatory throws and the desired touch have been elusive for the former five-star quarterback. Monday was simply too similar to last season.
New offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter is tasked with crafting a more productive and efficient offense while helping Uiagalelei elevate his game to the next level. Streeter previously served as Clemson’s quarterbacks coach during the 2020 and 2021 campaigns. The hope was that Streeter’s existing relationship with Uiagalelei would lead to a fruitful partnership now that he’s calling the shots offensively. The truth is, Monday’s showing didn’t showcase that whatsoever. Clemson’s offense looked just as stale while lacking identity.
How long can Clemson afford to wait to see if Uiagalelei has turned the corner? The Tigers possess legitimate playoff aspirations this season. They’ll lean heavily on a dominant defense that’s littered with future NFL talents. Bryan Bresee was excellent. The Tigers’ defense limited Georgia Tech’s offense to 10 points and 237 total yards while holding them under 100 rushing yards. Georgia Tech completed just 2-of-16 third downs. But riding a defense to the four-team playoff isn’t always easily achievable. The Tigers will require contributions from their offense. A large part of that entails Uiagalelei showing progress.
Clemson’s schedule gets considerably more difficult throughout September and October. Showdowns against Wake Forest, a Florida State squad that just knocked off LSU, and NC State loom large. They’ll travel to Notre Dame in early November. All of these contests represent an opportunity for DJ Uiagalelei to take command of Clemson’s starting job. They also represent an opportunity for him to continue conceding ground to Klubnik, which is what occurred against Georgia Tech on Monday.
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