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3 things you need to know about Clemson’s DJ Uiagalelei, Cade Klubnik 2022 QB battle

Clemson football, Clemson Tigers, DJ Uiagalelei, Cade Klubnik

The Clemson Tigers had some of the best quarterback play of any college football team over the last decade. Both Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence became stars at Clemson and established the Tigers as a college football powerhouse. Great quarterback play helped the Tigers win two national championships and make six appearances in the College Football Playoff.

Clemson finds itself with questions under center entering the 2022 season, a rare position for the team. DJ Uiagalelei, the heir apparent to Trevor Lawrence, struggled as a full-time starter in 2021. He completed just 55.6% of his passes and threw just nine touchdowns against 10 interceptions, and the Tigers missed the CFP for the first time since 2014.

The Tigers pull in star recruits every year, and they landed a potential star in quarterback Cade Klubnik. The freshman from Texas led his high school to three straight state championships and threw 86 touchdowns in his career. With the highly touted freshman coming in and Uiagalelei’s performance last year, Clemson has a quarterback battle on its hands.

The Tigers open the season in just over a month, and they’ll need to make a decision soon. Here are three things to know about Clemson football’s quarterback battle.

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Things To Know About Clemson Football’s Quarterback Battle

3. Recent History

Even with Clemson’s exceptional quarterback play in recent years, this situation isn’t entirely foreign. The Tigers needed a replacement for Watson in 2017, and turned to then-junior Kelly Bryant as their starter. Bryant played decently, completing 65.8% of his passes with 13 touchdowns and eight picks while leading the Tigers to another CFP appearance.

However, Clemson’s offense took a noticeable step back in its first year after Watson. The Tigers averaged 235.5 passing yards per game in 2017, down from 333.9 the year before. The lackluster offense cost the Tigers in the CFP, as they failed to find the end zone in a 24-6 semifinal loss to Alabama.

Bryant maintained his starting job through the first few games of the 2018 season, but continued to underperform. Dabo Swinney then gave the reins to Lawrence, a freshman at the time, and Clemson went on to win another title. Perhaps a similar situation could play out this season, where Uiagalelei begins as the starter but Klubnik takes over during the season.

2. Uiagalelei’s offseason improvement

Part of Uiagalelei’s struggles last season, by his own admission, was his weight. The quarterback said publicly that he weighed as much as 260 pounds during the season, which contributed to him not running the ball often.

Throughout the offseason, Uiagalelei made it a goal to cut down. He weighed in at 240 pounds by the start of spring practice, and set a goal of 230 pounds by the start of fall practice. Uiagalelei believes that losing some pounds will help him rebound in 2022.

“If I want to be a better quarterback for the team, then losing weight is big, Uiagalelei told USA Today. “There are goals that I have in mind. If I want to be able to reach those, it’s easy stuff to give up.”

1. Swinney continues to speak highly of Uiagalelei

Swinney expects the Tigers to compete for a national title every year he’s there. He could have easily lost his patience with Uiagalelei, and he did at one point. Swinney benched his QB during a 27-17 loss to Pittsburgh in October.

Instead of letting Uiagalelei’s performance bleed over into this season, Swinney opted to give him a fresh slate. The Tigers’ head coach strongly defended his QB on multiple occasions this offseason, most recently at ACC Media Days.

“This dude [Uiagalelei] is a freak,” Swinney told College Sports on SiriusXM. “People talk about him like he is some slapd— from Eastaboga Community College. This guy can play the game at the highest level. … He wasn’t great last year. He was awesome as a freshman. He was awesome his whole career in high school. He is a winner. … He is better because of what he went through.”

With his coach firmly in his corner, Uiagalelei looks poised to earn a second chance as the starting QB in Clemson. Klubnik will be tough competition, but expect to see Uiagalelei under center to start the season.