There’s quite a few elephants in the room when it comes to the Clemson football program right now. One of the more concerning being the play of DJ Uiagalelei and if he needs to be benched for backup Taisun Phommachanh or Hunter Helms. Today, I’ll give my rundown of why that isn’t going to happen unless QB1 suffers an injury.
With the way the season has played out for the Tigers, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the injury bug elects to strike Dabo Swinney’s program once again despite already sidelining several key players this season including Bryan Bresee, Will Taylor, Tyler Davis, Lannden Zanders, Nolan Turner, and James Skalski just to name a few.
It’s a peculiar situation without question but I’ll take my swing at this one with three reasons why Clemson will not replace quarterback DJ Uiagalelei despite a shaky start to 2021.
Taisun Phommachanh isn’t ready….and he’s not supposed to be
I’m still trying to figure out how this man is even suiting up every weekend. He tore his Achilles in the spring and was feared to be out for the season. However, he was able to make a full recovery and even took some reps against South Carolina State several weeks ago.
However, putting a guy that just came off of that type of injury into live action against a Power 5 opponent with the way this offensive line has played thus far seems a bit….adventurous. There’s no way he could safely be a real threat in the run game (not that DJ Uiagalelei is either at the moment) and that would continue to limit the playbook.
He really doesn’t have all that much experience either which is no fault of his own really. Most everyone in the world would be playing behind Trevor Lawrence but he’s decided to stick it out and be a true team player for the Tigers. I would love to see him get some reps just to see if he could provide a spark here or there but relying on him as the new QB1 sounds like a bad plan to me. Be it temporarily or permanently.
Clemson went “ALL IN” on Uiagalelei
Clemson has turned into a recruiting giant but folks across the country are beginning to believe that the Tigers may have just missed the mark a bit this time. It’s weird because we all saw what DJ was capable of against Notre Dame and Boston College last season. But since then, something changed.
He’s not the same guy we saw last season for whatever reason. Unfortunately, Clemson doesn’t have another 5-star QB just hanging out on the sidelines this season. What they have is what they have and clearly the coaches feel Uiagalelei gives the team the best chance for success. Call me crazy but I absolutely trust them on this. Read the room.
This team and program is accustomed to winning. Know that they are doing their best to right the ship and that means going with the more proven, experienced and presumably healthiest guy under center. Right now that’s Uiagalelei and I think the gap is wider than some Clemson fans want to admit at this time under these circumstances.
The QB situation is far from ideal for a team that has gone from title contenders to out of the AP top 25 in one of the fastest declines you’ll see in modern time. But I also get how bad it looks for the Tigers to have invested so much into DJ only to put him on the bench and potentially risk losing him all together in the transfer portal…which continues to be one-way traffic in Tigertown. (That’s another rant for another day)
Reps, Reps, Reps,
I’ve said before I’m not sure this offense can be “fixed” in the sense to where Clemson will begin scoring 30+ points per game again as they hit the homestretch. That just isn’t very realistic based on what we’ve seen through the first few weeks.
The only way this team gets better offensively is to keep working and making adjustments with DJ under center. Putting in a different QB right now with the options Clemson has feels like waterproof medical wrap on a bullet wound to the neck. Yeah it MIGHT slow down the bleeding but you’re still likely to die unless you get medical attention.
The Tigers are just simply not an explosive offense right now. They have to methodically grind out the drives with dinks and dunks and have just enough balance to keep the defense honest. Take what the defense will allow and while they must strategically take shots down field–it won’t be anything like what fans have seen over the last 3-5 years.
For now, gone are the days of 65-yard bombs to Justyn Ross or a 85-yard scamper right up the middle. It’s frustrating for the team and fans but it’s the reality. Clemson has to really make each possessions count, attempt to win the field position battle and not put the defense in tight situations.
Get used to 17-13, 24-21 type games. Honestly, it’s probably what’s best for the Tigers right now. Most importantly, if Clemson gets in a goal-to-go situation, they MUST find a way to get into the end zone. Trips down there are far too rare this season to keep dropping the ball in crunch time. One way to improve upon that…..reps.
The Bottom Line: This offense has to get better across the board. That starts with the leadership on and off the field of DJ Uiagalelei. It’s unfair to place Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence expectations on this young man but at the same time, the math ain’t mathing. We shall see what the open date brings as the Tigers head to Syracuse next Friday night at 7 p.m. for an ACC tilt with the Orange in the Carrier Dome.