TigerIllustrated – A Performance Game
Swinney played well in how he handled the quarterback situation in Saturday’s game. It was the right time to call the relief, after DJ Uiagalelei made a poor call and poorer pitch for another third-quarter turnover with Syracuse threatening to run away with it.
Swinney and brandon rueter also played well in how they handled the game with Cade Klubnik in – a much tougher task than it looks when trying to overcome a double-digit deficit while playing it safe when the human instinct is to try and claw it all back at once.
And the head coach had all the right and necessary touches in how he framed the situation moving forward. This is another difficult and overlooked part of leadership, especially so close to an emotional white-knuckle game.
Swinney described it as “just one of them” for Uiagalelei, likening it to a no-shot day for a great basketball player or a bad day at home plate for a great baseball player.
He said Uiagalelei had built up enough equity to keep going. And he cited his status as team leader, a key facet that was backed up by the words of other coaches and players after the game.
But Swinney also said Uiagalelei needed to be better. As in: It’s a performance game.
During Swinney’s brilliant tenure, there’s not much precedent for a situation like this, this late in a season, with these stakes.
There was Korn’s short-lived stint in 2008, as the beloved replacement wasn’t ready for prime time that day against Georgia Tech and was quickly replaced by Cullen Harper.
Kelly Bryant was reluctant at times during the 2017 regular season but overall he was clearly the best option even though he was nowhere in the galaxy of the guy he replaced or the guy who would replace him in 2018 .
In 2020, there was a quarterback change in late October and early November, but that was because Trevor Lawrence was out with COVID and Uiagalelei’s excellent two-game stint showed Clemson had one hell of a backup.
The Tigers didn’t have that last season, when Taisun Phommachanh wasn’t good enough to move Uiagalelei as he descended into a season-long funk.
These images from 2021 are impossible to ignore given similar images on Saturday. It may well be an aberration, Uiagalelei outruns her and never looks back.
But even before Syracuse, there were signs of regression. The top pick at Boston College, all those three outs and Swinney’s decision to press the gas on offense late with the deal long decided.
There have been some great throws and runs from Uiagalelei to Tallahassee, but also nervousness and an inability to see receivers running freely down the field.
Not as loose and free. Not as rhythmic.
He was still pretty good even though Swinney tried to push him forward in those two games, but pretty good turned pretty bad on Saturday.
In Klubnik you definitely have an upgrade on Phommachanh, someone who is able to push Uiagalelei and give this attack some of the spark it needs. But also a freshman who unquestionably (and understandably) continues to grow mentally and physically in his freshman year of college play.
Swinney and everyone else are going to do their best over the next two weeks to rally around Uiagalelei, as they should. And while that doesn’t quite qualify as a quarterback controversy, it looks like it could be a dilemma.