Mike O’Brien ‘23
Chief Sports Editor
For the last seven or so years, Clemson football has enjoyed a seat at the table of elite college football programs, up there with the likes of Alabama, Ohio State, and others. Since the birth of the College Football Playoff in 2014, Clemson has been crowned as National Champions on two separate occasions; once in 2016 and another in 2018.
The strength of Clemson’s program has come in their offense, producing a multitude of NFL talent namely at the quarterback and wide receiver positions. Household signal callers such as Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence played for the Tigers, while standout WR’s such as DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Williams, Hunter Renfrow, and Tee Higgins also called Death Valley home.
After losing Trevor Lawrence, arguably the most highly touted college quarterback entering the draft since Andrew Luck, many wondered how Clemson’s offense would function. DJ Uiagalelei was the man set to replace Lawrence, who saw some action for the Tigers last season when Lawrence contracted COVID-19; Uiagalelei produced a very solid game against Notre Dame, going 29/44 for 439 yards and 2 passing TD’s while tacking on a rushing TD in a 47-40 shootout loss to the Irish in double OT in arguably the most exciting regular season game of last year.
In his first start as the true QB1, Uiagalelei ran into a wall. Georgia’s defense was absolutely relentless the entire game, not allowing a touchdown in a 10-3 defensive struggle. The Bulldogs held Uiagalelei to 19/37 on passing for just 178 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. Rushing the ball on Georgia was literally almost impossible as well, as Clemson mustered up two yards of rushing offense. TWO. Heading into the matchup, Georgia was ranked #5 and Clemson was ranked #3. Fine; not a devastating, season-ending loss for Clemson as Georgia previewed the best defense in the country and that they are very much contenders to make the playoff.
Clemson seemed to shake off the loss decently well with a comfortable 49-3 win over South Carolina State. Next, the Tigers played host to fellow ACC member Georgia Tech. This was the perfect opportunity for Clemson to assuage the possible concerns of the Playoff committee that they were still dominating the ACC competition per usual.
But the Yellow Jackets didn’t go down without a fight. In a game that Tech arguably should have won as they had more total offense, first downs, and didn’t commit any fumbles or turnovers, Clemson won by the skin of their teeth by a final score of 14-8. Although RB Will Shipley played hero for the Tigers, rushing for 88 yards and scoring two TD’s after another poor performance from Uiagalelei who threw for just 126 yards and no TD’S, one thing was clear from this result: the ACC was hungry to take Clemson down.
Clemson traveled across state lines to take on the Wolfpack of North Carolina State in a game that had the ACC holding their breath the entire time. For the second week in a row, Clemson was outclassed offensively; NC State claimed more passing and rushing yards, and absolutely dominated in first downs (31 to Clemson’s 10) and time of possession (41:48 to Clemson’s 18:12.) And somehow, Clemson was able to squeak out a 14-14 result by the end of regulation due to a missed NC State field goal at the end of regulation to win the game, sending it to OT.
The Tigers took advantage of the miss by scoring on their first possession of college football’s wildly entertaining OT format, and NC State would have to respond with a score themselves. However, the Wolfpack remained resilient, and they answered right back to make it 21-21. After Clemson failed to score on their possession in double OT, their luck finally ran out and NC State WR Devin Carter made an unreal catch in the back corner of the end zone to walk it off against the Tigers and pull off the upset by a score of 27-21.
Will Clemson have the answers to salvage what is left of the season? The Playoff is almost certainly out of the question now, as they barely cling onto being a ranked team sitting at #25. Are they just not used to having an elite QB at the helm? Uiagalelei finally showed the leadership of a QB1, throwing for two TD’s as well as leading the team in rushing by more than 25 yards against NC State, but seems to not hold a candle talent wise to Lawrence or Watson. Whatever the issue is, if Dabo Swinney wants to keep his job, Clemson is going to have to turn it around fast.