Dabo Swinney threatens to bench starting QB if it will improve Clemson’s offensive woes
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said he is willing to do whatever it takes to get the Tigers offense going in the right direction — including benching the starting quarterback.
Starter DJ Uiagalelei has been taken out of action in each of the last two games, including during Clemson's upset loss to Norte Dame over the weekend.
Uiagalelei is expected to be the starter in this week's game against Louisville, but Swinney said he is not opposed to pulling him for more than a series or two if he begins to struggle.
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“He has to play better and get back on track. That’s the reality of the situation,” Swinney said Tuesday. “We’ve watched every play with him. If you don’t play better, someone else gets a chance.”
After turning the ball over three times against Syracuse, Uiagalelei was benched in the third quarter in favor of freshman back Cade Klubnik. He helped spark a fourth-quarter rally that ultimately led to a 27-21 Clemson victory.
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Coming off a bye week, Clemson played arguably its worst game of the season against Norte Dame. Uiagalelei and Klubnik each threw interceptions en route a 14-35 loss.
In only his second career start, the then-freshaman Uiagalelei threw for 439 years at Norte Dame Stadium in 2020.
Uiagalelei “doesn't punt protect and he's not asked to stop the run,” Swinney said in reference to Clemson's miscues on special teams during their game against Norte Dame.
The good news for Uiagalelei is that his team is still supports him. “Being around DJ for the last three years, I still don't have any doubt in him,” he said. “I believe in him 100%. He's a battler,” Clemson offensive lineman Jordan McFadden said.
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Uiaglelei had big shoes to fill when he arrived on campus. He replaced College Football Playoff National champion and 2021 NFL Draft No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence.
Uiagalelei threw 17 touchdowns and two interceptions over the course of the Tigers' first seven wins, but struggled against Syracuse in a game where he was picked off twice and fumbled.
With Clemson wanting to finish strong — and hold onto its fading CFP hopes — the offense needs to get going as it did in averaging almost 39 points a game through its first seven contests.
The one loss Tigers dropped to No. 10 in the latest CFP rankings which were released on Tuesday.
“We're in a rut,” said Kyle Richardson, the tight ends coach and pass game coordinator. “And nobody's sitting here trying to disagree with that. We've got to play better, we've got to coach better.”
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Swinney said his focus remains on winning this week's game: “The only thing worse than 8-1 is 8-2. We want to get to 9-1 and be who I know we are.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.