It took until their ninth game, but the Clemson Tigers finally suffered their first defeat of the 2022 college football season at the hands of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The final score of 35-14 in no way tells you how lopsided the game actually was. Clemson was utterly embarrassed in this game. They dropped from No. 5 all the way to No. 10 in the College Football Playoff Rankings as a result.
There’s a litany of blame to be tossed around, but here’s the two people most to blame for Clemson football’s embarrassing 35-14 loss to Notre Dame.
2. DJ Uiagalelei
Perhaps the most criticized quarterback in the country at times, DJ Uiagalelei unfortunately showed the same weaknesses he did all too often last season, and at times this season. It’s the same kind of mistakes that’s going to land Uiagalelei on the bench instead of Cade Klubnik if he’s not careful. In fact, that is quickly becoming the prudent option.
For a while this season, it seemed as if Uiagalelei’s issues were rooted in departed offensive coordinator Tony Elliott more than himself, as he, frankly, looked as though he’d turned a corner. Then came a benching against Syracuse, followed by a get-right game, and now this. It’s just not sustainable for a program of Clemson’s caliber and ambition to keep plugging away like this with a quarterback who has proven ineffective at the highest level time and time again.
Uiagalelei’s struggles are well-documented, and for good reason. They’ve cost a Clemson team with College Football Playoff ambitions wins in back-to-back seasons. That’s just not the kind of thing a big-time program can have happen. Feel free to imagine Uiagalelei wearing a different jersey next fall, because that possibility is growing in likelihood.
If Clemson wants to play with the big boys again, they can’t do so with a quarterback who has played the way Uiagalelei has at times the past two seasons.
1. Dabo Swinney
As much as DJ Uiagalelei is to blame for Clemson’s offensive ineptitude, Dabo Swinney is to blame for not making a change at the quarterback position. Sure, Cade Klubnik did come on late, and his only pass was intercepted, but you have to make that change a lot sooner. If you want to return your team to the College Football Playoff, you have to be ruthless in your decision-making to save games, and Swinney just wasn’t.
It’s an odd thing for a coach like Swinney to be so cautious with the trigger, as he notably pulled the plug on Kelly Bryant in 2018 in favor of then true-freshman Trevor Lawrence. So we know that the instinct of when to pull a quarterback in favor of another is there, but it just hasn’t shown itself in Swinney since Uiagalelei took the reins.
That’s going to have to change if Clemson wants to salvage their College Football Playoff hopes, however, as they’ll need to win out, win the ACC Championship, and pray for some losses elsewhere to even have the slightest chance of making it in. It’s no secret that the committee doesn’t respect the strength of schedule Clemson has in the ACC compared to other teams at 8-1, such as Tennessee in the SEC or Oregon in the Pac-12. So, they’re going to have to hope for just the right set of circumstances to play out in order to reach the top four in the final rankings come December.