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Clemson football: 2 Tigers burning questions as 2022 preseason camp kicks off

Clemson Tigers, Dabo Swinner, D.J. Uiagalelei

Expectations for the Clemson Tigers in the upcoming 2022 season are sky-high following their roller-coaster 2021 campaign.

Clemson entered last year among the heavy favorites to clinch a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Tigers’ aspirations at this feat came to a crashing end within weeks, as they opened up with a concerning 4-3 record. While Clemson’s defense ended up ranking at second in the nation in points per game allowed with a 15.0 average, it was the offense’s stagnant production that held back what could have been yet another dominant year by the program in ACC play.

Even as Clemson lost two regulars on defense to the 2022 NFL Draft, it is returning multiple keen contributors on this side of the ball. But for the Tigers to shrug off last year’s down season, it will at the least be up to these three players on offense to lead the way.

Clemson football: 2 Tigers burning questions

Can D.J. Uiagalelei orchestrate a bounce-back campaign?

Not much went quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei’s way in the 2021 season. He garnered plenty of preseason hype to be a top contender for the Heisman Trophy honor, but the former five-star recruit failed to live up to the hefty expectations. He capped off the year with a mere nine total passing touchdowns, and he also did not reach 250-plus passing yards in any game. From the multiple game-changing turnovers that he had to his lackadaisical timing on downfield throws, he simply struggled to anchor a free-flowing offense on a game-by-game basis.

Uiagalelei now faces a make-or-break year in his third season in the Clemson program, as the coaching staff may not have much patience for him in the early stages of the campaign. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney does have five-star recruit and true freshman quarterback Cade Klubnik ready to go to soon guide the offense if needed.

Nonetheless, Swinney, as he touched on during spring practice in March, is backing the third-year passer to have an “amazing year.”

“I think he’s going to have an amazing year, I really do so, but the first thing is he’s got to get better,” Swinney said. “I can criticize him on some things that he’s got to do but we got to get better around him and we will.

“He needed to build on things from last year. I mean he took eight and a half sacks and the majority of those were the first part of the season. Holding the ball, not managing the pocket well. Some fundamentals, some technical things.”

Uiagalelei, who is set to feature under first-year offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter, must limit turnovers and also polish his footwork in the pocket in order to rebound from his sluggish first full season as Clemson’s starting quarterback.

Can Will Shipley and Kobe Pace help to balance out the offense for Uiagalelei?

For Clemson to punch its ticket to the College Football Playoff, running backs Will Shipley and Kobe Pace need to form a dynamic one-two punch at the position.

Shipley and Pace did not necessarily balance out the offense for the Tigers in the 2021 season. Shipley did miss time in the campaign due to a leg injury. In Pace’s case, he did notch a promising 6.7 yards from scrimmage per play average, but he was never truly provided with the chance to regularly be the Tigers’ go-to option at the position.

It will now be up to Shipley and Pace to lead the Tigers’ running backs group and also orchestrate quality showings on the ground. Overall, it can all go a long way in helping out the stout talents on the defensive side of the ball.

“We’ve got to respect every opponent, and we’ve got to appreciate every win,” Shipley said at Clemson’s fall practice on Friday. “So I think that is really what it comes down to – nothing comes easy at a place like Clemson University. We’re one of the best programs in the country, so we’re going to get everybody’s best every single week.

“As an offense, we have to produce to help that defense out a little more than we did last year.”

For now, much attention is centered on Clemson’s season opener against Georgia Tech. The ACC powerhouse will essentially not receive its first real tests of the campaign until the latter half of the schedule when it will face the likes of Notre Dame and Miami. Thus, it sure is going to be crucial for the Tigers to open up the year on a winning streak in order to emerge as one of the early College Football Playoff contenders.