Ten weeks until Clemson opens the season in Atlanta against Georgia Tech, but how will the quarterback situation look?
There is no doubt that DJ Uiagalelei, who led the Tigers last season with 2,246 passing yards and 9 touchdowns, will be starting, but the 2022 season does seem to echo uncertainties similar to the 2018 season.
Another decorated freshman, Cade Klubnik, has arrived on the scene, and many Clemson fans are quick to crown him as the starter and count DJ as Kelly Bryant 2.0. However, the fortunes of football are unpredictable, and it’s a bit presumptuous to use just one season’s performance to define an entire career.
While some fans may continue to lament last season’s troubles and fear a repeat in 2022, history has proven that Clemson can defy the odds. At the end of the 2017 season, there was substantial anxiety surrounding the upcoming 2018 offense.
Ray-Ray McCloud and Deion Cain’s early entrance into the NFL Draft was quite the head-scratcher for Clemson fans and raised concerns about who would be stepping up in the receiving game. That year, the Tigers had veterans like Hunter Renfrow and Trevion Thompson and a steady duo in Diondre Overton and Cornell Powell.
However, the future of an elite deep-ball receiving game was still ambiguous. Tee Higgins was a true freshman who played sparingly, and Justyn Ross was a 5-star recruit who signed in early February 2018. Not to mention, following a dismal showing in the 2017 semifinal (marking the beginning of the all-orange/New Orleans nightmares!), Kelly Bryant’s job was looking somewhat unsteady with the arrival of the “Golden Armed” prodigy Trevor Lawrence. Who would’ve imagined the Tigers would be national champions by a landslide the following year?
Things in college football aren’t always what they seem. Case in point, Georgia this past year. No one ever imagined that walk-on Stetson Bennett would take J.T. Daniels’s job and usurp a QB room full of 5 stars and win it all.
The rise of Kenny Pickett is yet another example. When Clemson met him in the 2018 ACC Championship Game, he only had 8 passing yards and an interception to top off a 42-10 loss. When he returned to Charlotte three seasons later, he was soon labeled as “Mr. Fake Slide” with over 200 yards and 2 touchdowns, leading Pitt to an ACC title. Four months later, Pickett was the 20th overall draft pick for the Steelers. Seasons change. Things evolve. And so do football players.
Last season’s performance garnered significant criticism for Clemson. If you look at the season holistically, a 10-3 record only concerns the diehard Tiger fans complaining about a possible downward trend coupled with astronomical expectations.
There’s no denying that most of the wins weren’t pretty. Yes, they were saved by a bad snap against Boston College. And yes, they were fortunate that linebacker James Skalski spent a lot of time in the film room, which resulted in a miraculous stop on the 2-yard line against Georgia Tech.
Despite the near-misses, the Tigers still managed to pull out some wins regardless of our quarterback play. We were riddled with injuries that rocked an already young roster. The QB was one of them, playing hobbled for much of the season. Not to mention, the three losses could’ve gone the other way.
What if Braden Galloway caught that 4th down slant from DJ in Georgia territory when down only 10-3? At NC State, what if Davis Allen had not tipped a pass thrown behind him at midfield, resulting in a crippling interception? What if Justyn Ross caught that touchdown with seconds left in double overtime? What if there had been no freak backfield interception or dropped seam route at Pitt? There would be your undefeated record.
As for DJ, fans and critics are too eager to compare him to Trevor Lawrence, but the biggest problem isn’t measuring up to Trevor but DJ measuring up to DJ. The 2020 DJ set the bar impossibly high. After his impressive performances against BC and Notre Dame, DJ became a frontrunner in the 2021 Heisman forecast only behind, ironically, UofSC transfer Spencer Rattler.
There were an enormous amount of expectations surrounding him. Now, pundits and fans wonder if Klubnik (who has never had to open a season against a defense like UGA’s army of five stars, including five first-round draft picks) will take the job before his redshirt is burned. Is it 2018 all over again?
Past performance does have an impact on the future, but it’s not a rigid determinant. There were a lot of aspects that contributed to Clemson’s struggles last season, but a new season is a fresh start. Perhaps the Tigers will be holding up a trophy next January.
Don’t sleep on DJ.
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