Overall, there’s a better idea out of Clemson at this point in the season. Dabo Swinney isn’t afraid of a tough non-conference game, and he just so happens that the Tigers’ big ACC non-game at Notre Dame takes place in early November of this year. Obviously that would have been a better resume builder before the Irish dropped out of the top 25, but that’s beside the point.
Point is, the Tigers haven’t played anyone this season, with lopsided wins over Georgia Tech, Furman and Louisiana Tech. If the Yellow Jackets weren’t in such bad shape, we might get more from the only game against a power-five opponent. . That is not the case as the Jackets were outscored in games by Clemson and Ole Miss by a total of 83-10.
So it’s fair to say that Clemson hasn’t faced anyone, and one might even add that those wins, as lopsided as the final score may have seemed, weren’t particularly convincing given the opponent and the expectation of Clemson football. This week, the Tigers visit defending ACC champion No. 21 Wake Forest (I know, it was as weird for me to write as it was for you to read), and we’ll see if Swinney’s team deserves its top-five ranking.
It’s not so much a question of talent as who gives the ball to the talent. After a challenging freshman year under center in 2021 by any school’s standards, starting quarterback DJ Uiagalei entered this season as a starter with the warning that he could be pushed by five-star freshman Cade Klubnik. who was the No. 1 quarterback in his class and went undefeated as a starter in the most competitive division of Texas high school football.
Whether it’s a slow start or some conspiracy to keep fans from asking for Klubnik, the Tigers have just earned the Super Frosh Five series. After one possession in each of the Georgia Tech and Furman contests, it looked like Klubnik would have some garbage time to himself with Clemson leading 34-6 late in the third quarter against Louisiana Tech.
After three and out, a failed four-play drive and two runs by Bulldog, Uiagalelei had to be reinstated because the lead was cut to 34-20 and Swinney got nervous. If you’re saying, “Well, wasn’t DJ the one who got them the lead in the first place?” He was 6-for-13 at halftime, and Tech opened the second half by throwing interceptions on his first two drives that led to Tiger touchdowns, one of which came on a Will Shipley solo run for 32 yards.
The longest play from scrimmage this year for the Tigers is a 41-yard pass. That Shipley score is the longest. For comparison’s sake, the Demon Deacons have four guys with plays of that length or more, including a 68-yard completion, and eight guys with gains of 20 or more compared to Clemson’s six. Granted Wake has also been playing against mediocre opponents, and needed to stop a two-point conversion to beat Liberty last week, but he can still move the ball.
The Demon Deacons played well enough for their backup to work. Mitch Griffis has 14 more attempts and 222 more yards than Klubnik. Clemson is allowing more passing yards in the game (244.7) than they are throwing (243). Wake actually enters this matchup with the highest average offensive production (434 yards per game vs. 425).
Demon Deacon coach Dave Clawson and quarterback Sam Hartman stole the ACC last season, they’re already in sync and will rack up enough points to force Clemson to throw. Veteran Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables is now coaching Oklahoma. Furman completed passes and sustained drives with well-crafted scripts, and ended up winning the battle for time of possession by 10 minutes at Memorial Stadium.
A season ago, the Tigers beat the Deacs, 48-27, at Death Valley amid a six-game winning streak to finish the season 10-3 after starting 4-3. That means Uiagalelei has the team on a nine-game winning streak overall. In those wins, he is 156-for-263 for 1,806 yards, 10 TD passes and six interceptions. That’s 200 yards per game, with a completion rate of 59 percent. Only once in that span did he rush for more than 36 yards (he had 62 rushing against La. Tech) and in no game did he top 300 yards in the air. And these are victories we are talking about.
The Tigers didn’t light up the early-season cupcakes in a way that would convince you Uiagalelei has turned the corner, and they failed to get any substantial plan B reps. Going 3-0 is the goal of most programs. It wasn’t for Clemson.
This is a bigger game than you’d think to start Saturday, and I know how much that extra hour of tracking on the East Coast helps. Winston-Salem should have great weather and a better crowd. Who knows about his defense, but who cares.
And now a word about Tennessee-Florida
The last time College Gameday came to Knoxville was in 2016, and it was also the last time these two rivals met as ranked opponents. The 14th-ranked Vols went on to beat the 19th-ranked Gators 38-28 on their way to a 9-4 record, finishing 22nd in the AP Poll. That was also the last time UT finished the season in the top 25.
The meat of the SEC schedule will come after Saturday, with LSU, No. 8 Kentucky, No. 2 Alabama and No. 1 Georgia scheduled for four of the next five weeks. Good luck to head coach Josh Heupel and the team.
Hendon Hooker is a dynamic quarterback on that offense, and if they play the way they’ve shown they can, this should be a Vols win. It seems like a decade ago that Gator quarterback Anthony Richardson was leading Florida over No. 7 Utah in the season opener, but it was still only September. He has yet to throw for scores this season and has four interceptions in the last two games.
The current Tennessee fan would look at that and say, “Yeah, it’s due and we’re screwed.” Take it easy. Remember your breathing techniques. You got it. ESPN is here. Brad Nessler, Gary Danielson and CBS are here. It’s your special day. What can go wrong? It’s just Florida.