Atlanta – Georgia Tech was into this thing. Then Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, who was uneven at the start of what he hopes is a redemption season, turned on the game-changing play.
Georgia Tech trailed 17-10 late in the third quarter on Monday night, and a disturbing prospect was in the air at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Yellow Vests began to show life on the attack, and it was choking off No. 4 Clemson’s offense. At the third and sixth, they pressed and had previously died a five-star. Except it wasn’t.
Uiagalelei pulled away from a rush and desperately pushed aside Will Shipley as he descended. Shipley picked up the first touchdown, drove Clemson to touch down, and the Tigers can breathe a sigh of relief as this won’t come down to the final seconds like last year’s win over Tech.
LATERAL by DJ UIAGALELEI 😱 pic.twitter.com/fi3M61k25L
– ESPN (espn) September 6, 2022
“This is a play we didn’t do last year,” Tigers coach Dabo Sweeney said at his press conference shortly after celebrating on the field in front of the Clemson followers with a leather helmet over his head. “(Uiagalelei) is creative. It was a huge play, and these are the plays you have to do. Not everything goes according to the script.”
the last Clemson Cannes 41, Georgia Tech 10which was the text. But how it happened was not. Clemson’s offensive flaws – an inconsistent streak, an unstable quarterback and receivers who have trouble opening up – were all on display in the first two and a half quarters against a Georgia Tech team expected to be near the basement at the ACC. And given what we saw earlier in the weekend, at 17-10 late in the third inning, the nail-biting finish wasn’t off the table.
But Uiagalelei gave an improvisational play to Shipley that swayed the momentum and the Tigers outperformed them in the fourth quarter to close it out.
“I just saw Shipley there and threw it at him and he did a great job,” said Oyagalele. “We went down and scored a touchdown. It was a big play for us.”
Clemson came in fourth on the season, which means, if you believe the pre-season polls, it’s a playoff team. Of course, the Tigers were considered a playoff team prior to last season as well, until their attack collapsed and they lost three games in the regular season. Clemson did not participate in the ACC Championship match after winning six times in a row. The 10-3 finish was a step down from the athletic shed, and the off-season was about fixing the offense after finishing 99th in the FBS in yardage and 82nd in scoring.
“We need a better attack and better passing, and I saw those two things tonight,” Sweeney said.
Uyaglielli bore the brunt of the criticism last season, but the attacking line also struggled hard and receivers were a far cry from Clemson’s national title teams. When new five-star student Kadi Klopnik joined early, it was expected that there would be competition for the QB position. But Sweeney made it clear that Uiagalelei is his man, and Monday night was his first opportunity to show that things will be different in 2022.
He finished 19 of 32 for 210 yards and a touchdown, with three sacks and a missing fumble.
Uiagalelei was shaky at first. He was unable to handle the loud snap that killed the first drive, and fumbled the determined QB run in the second. Hold the ball in the pocket and play temporarily.
After he made a forbidden bet for the Tigers at Georgia Tech 5, it took Clemson four running plays to reach the end zone. The offense was limited to 50 yards in the first 17 plays.
“It was kind of the perfect scenario tonight,” Sweeney said. “The DJ had to fight through some adversity, and he did some great plays with his feet.”
With 5:15 to play and the game in hand, Sweeney went to his new five-star student in one go. And Klopnik made the most of it. His first throw was a contested non-completion along the sideline, while his second throw was a nice 20-yard completion on the start. Show the ability to turn on some of the reading options, while keeping a third option down to expand the drive. They headed with another throw and a 3 yard drop to Will Taylor.
It was 4 for 6 for 49 yards on the drive and displayed traits that will have Clemson fans yearning for backup if Uiagalelei slips back into 2021 form.
For now, there is clearly no competition. this is not Michigan or Ole Miss mode. Swinney was happy to introduce Klubnik when the match was set, and with two non-conference rounds on the deck at Furman and Louisiana Tech, Swinney is eager to give him more time with Unit Two.
Oyajaleli explained that he is excited about the new student.
“He did what he does in practice,” Uyajalelli said. “He plays with a lot of confidence. It’s good to see him. He’s a great player.”