What a season it has been.
Remember prior to the start of the season when everyone thought cornerback would be Clemson’s weak link because of lack of depth? Now that’s a distant, laughable memory. The position everyone thought would struggle has been one of the best on the team. The one position no one questioned was quarterback production. Some did question quarterback depth, and rightfully so, but more on that later.
There has clearly been a regression in quarterback production from previous years. This was expected to a point, as trying to fill a giant’s shoes is never easy. But honestly, no one could’ve predicted the precipitous plunge that materialized. Sophomore quarterback DJ Uiagalelei has taken tremendous criticism by many fans this year, and rightfully so. But to hear “boos” in Memorial Stadium, one would have to wonder if he is taking too much of the blame, as this is a team sport and Clemson has had to maneuver through a minefield of adversity this year.
The first place to look is the actual numbers themselves. Fans are biased, coaches are biased, and people are generally biased in nature. But numbers are absolute. They do not lie, and they have no bias whatsoever. Uiagalelei’s stats are as follows: completion percentage 55.1%, 9 touchdowns, 8 interceptions, 1,960 yards, and a rating of 110.3. The closest quarterback with comparable numbers in recent history is Cole Stoudt. His stats are as follows: completion percentage 62.3%, 9 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, 1892 yards, and a rating of 119.1. Now it should be noted that Stoudt was a senior in 2014 when he put together these stats as Uiagalelei is still a sophomore.
There are several factors which likely had a negative affect on Uiagalelei’s numbers. There is no doubt that the offensive line did a poor job to start the year. Clemson simply couldn’t run the football at all, leaving them one dimensional. Pass protection was far from elite as well.
The offensive line has kind of been a work in progress all year, especially considering the injuries, which we will get to in a minute. The team did him no favors by not having a true center to start the year out. It would absolutely be fair to assume that the offensive line was a big reason why the sophomore signal caller struggled throughout the season. Thankfully, that unit is much improved at this point.
It has been an apocalyptic year regarding injuries. The last number was 17 players out for the season, maybe more. Clemson is likely the most injured team in college football this year. A young quarterback needs some stability around him to develop, and that’s one thing Uiagalelei has absolutely not had this year. Speaking of injuries, Uiagalelei has been injured himself for much of the season. He has been playing through a sprained knee ligament, and injured throwing hand. The throwing hand may have been injured long before any of the fans even knew about it.
Another thing he hasn’t had is a security blanket. Until recently, Clemson had absolutely no answer for slot receiver. Thankfully, Beaux Collins has since filled that role. Every other Clemson quarterback in recent memory had a reliable guy in the slot. Uiagalelei has not until very recently with the emergence of Collins.
Clemson receivers have had more drops this season than any in recent memory, especially over the first half of the season. It appears they may have finally ironed out this issue. Receivers dropping passes is definitely not a recipe for success with an embattled young quarterback.
Lastly, there is no real depth. Behind Uiagalelei, there is only one other scholarship quarterback on the roster. Taisun Phommachanh started the season after tearing his Achilles tendon in spring practice, so odds are he was never 100 percent to begin with. He has been dealing with other injuries as well.
Many were hoping to see backup quarterbacks come in to replace a struggling Uiagalelei, at times. When some fans finally got their wish against UConn, it was clear why coach Dabo Swinney had not made that move all season. Regardless if Uiagalelei shows significant improvement or not, this is one position in which all fans could agree absolutely needs more depth.
The jury is still out on quarterback DJ Uiagalelei. He makes amazing throws and plays at times, and it is easy to see the talent is there. Others, the ball isn’t close to being on target. Even on the throws that should be automatic, which leaves fans scratching their heads. Some think he just needs more time to reach the potential everyone thought he would. Others think Clemson will be better off when Cade Klubnik gets to town. The best case for Uiagalelei and Clemson, however, is that he continues to improve and is able to lead the team on a run next year. Having legitimate competition can’t hurt either.
The reason why is simple; Clemson may only have two scholarship quarterbacks again next year, not including former walk-on Hunter Helms. Taisun Phommachanh could potentially transfer during the offseason. He has now been in the program three years and if he wants to play, now could be the time to make that move.
Would Clemson really want to lose Uiagalelei to the portal as well and only have one true scholarship quarterback? Be careful what you wish for. If Klubnik were to come and and win the job, that’s a very real possibility. Let’s hope that Uiagalelei heals both mentally and physically and reaches his full potential by next year.
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