ATLANTA — DJ Uiagalelei said last week his mantra for the 2022 season is “roll the dice.”
Monday night provided Uiagalelei with his first opportunity to do just that, and the result was what one would expect – he won some and lost some, but still finished with a winning night.
If Clemson fans tuned in to see their junior quarterback perform a remarkable transformation, they likely went home at least mildly disappointed after a 41-10 win over Georgia Tech at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
And if they tuned in to see their fourth-ranked football team earn a convincing win over the team chosen to finish sixth out of seven teams in the ACC’s Coastal Division, they likely came away not entirely satisfied.
Perhaps it was appropriate for the game to take place on Labor Day, because Clemson’s offense certainly worked for much of the game, unable to find consistency, unable to muster a dominant push at the forward with his offensive line.
Perhaps it was just as fitting that it was essentially the Clemson defense that was responsible for the Tigers’ first touchdown of the 2022 football season and the penultimate score of the night – both coming a few games after blocked clearances put the attack in the shadow of the end zone.
Based on what unfolded at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Monday night, the attack seemed to have improved more than a year ago, when it roared through the early games before finally coming to life towards the mid-season. This year’s team had the advantage of not facing an eventual national champion in their season opener and are a good bet to be 4-0 when NC State comes to town on Oct. 1.
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In the meantime, there’s still plenty of work to do for the entire unit, including Uiagalelei, who got off to a rocky start against Georgia Tech. He fumbled, missed a few receivers and didn’t exactly seem to be noticeably faster despite losing 30 pounds since last year.
Uiagalelei’s inefficiency in early possessions has Clemson fans wondering if they’ll see freshman phenom Cade Klubnik sooner rather than later. They saw it, but it wasn’t until cleanup time with 5:15 left in the game, mostly because DJ stepped up his game.
Coach Dabo Swinney has made it clear that Uiagalelei is his guy, at least for now, and Uiagalelei settled into a groove in the third quarter where he watched the role of the precocious freshman who has so admirably filled the spot of Trevor Lawrence two seasons ago.
After Georgia Tech cut Clemson’s lead to 14-10 early in the third quarter, Uiagalelei guided back-to-back drives and, during one streak, completed 7 of 10 passes for 94 yards. He went 19 of 32 for 209 yards for a 59% completion rate; usable.
“DJ had to fight through adversity,” Swinney said.
He also seemed to feel that Swinney was sticking with him through thick and thin and for much of the second half he appeared to be at ease, confident in his pocket, eager to make plays and reassert himself.
Going forward, all bets are off, but for now it’s DJ’s job to lose and he seems to be enjoying his chances to roll the dice.