Clemson football: The encouraging portion for DJ Uiagalelei

The 2021 Clemson football season hasn’t necessarily gotten off to the start that many Tiger fans had hoped.

Clemson dropped the season-opener with a 10-3 loss to Georgia in Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte and the Tigers rebounded this past weekend in their home-opener against S.C. State with a 49-3 victory. Still, even with a 46-point win, there were plenty of questions and concerns circulating around the offense.

Particularly, the concerns are pointed towards QB D.J. Uiagalelei.

In his first two starts this season, Uiagalelei has looked vastly different from the quarterback we saw in two starts last season. Just look at the stats if you need more proof than the eye test:

  • In two starts in 2020: 59-of-85 (69.4 percent) for 781 yards, 4 passing TDs, 2 rushing TDs, no INTs.
  • In the first two starts of 2021: 33-of-61 (54.1 percent) for 349 yards, 1 passing TD, 2 rushing TDs, 2 INTs.

So, what has happened between this year and last year? Has Uiagalelei regressed physically? It’s my opinion that this is more of a mental hurdle than it has to do with physical issues.

Yes, he has some physical issues that need to be addressed. His footwork is bad at times and he is far too stiff in the pocket. His pocket presence needs work and there have been some inaccuracies when throwing.

That being said, let’s not pretend that he doesn’t have the physical tools. I’ve had people tell me that “DJ is garbage” and that “he’s a bust.” Two games into the season, mind you. Those people, frankly, don’t know what they’re looking at.

Film Analysis: The Clemson football offense needs to help D.J. Uiagalelei

I want to take you back to the drive right before the half against S.C. State. Clemson was moving the ball and was using tempo– more on that in a few.

Uiagalelei threw a fade down the sideline intended for Ajou Ajou. Ajou looked as if he slowed down for a split second instead of continuing to run his route. The ball fell just inches out of his hands.

On the very next play, Uiagalelei threw an accurate ball right over the middle of the Joseph Ngata for what would’ve been a first down. Unfortunately, it was dropped. On the next play, he dumped it off to backup RB Michel Dukes, who ended up fumbling.

In a time where it seems Uiagalelei is struggling mentally– and that’s affecting him physically– can you imagine what a completion on either of those passes might’ve done for his confidence? It certainly doesn’t help when you have a stiff and tight quarterback when your wide receivers aren’t precise in what they need to do either.

So, what’s the encouraging fact here? Uiagalelei has shown that he has the physical traits. He can make throws that only professionals can make and we’ve seen short glimpses of those even this season.

The problem, right now, is that he’s in his own head. There’s too much going on and the game hasn’t slowed down for him at all. It’s overwhelming him and you can see it.

So, what can the Clemson football coaching staff do to help Uiagalelei? One word: Tempo.

We’ve talked about it already, but when tempo speeds up and Uiagalelei is focused on just running the play and attacking, rather than making a ton of adjustments or reads at the lines of scrimmage, the game slows down for him.

When he’s able to just go play and react rather than carry this big weight on his shoulders– especially pre-snap– he’s a different player.

The best thing Tony Elliott could do right now is to take a play out of Chad Morris’s playbook and to run tempo. It puts the defense back on their heels and it allows the offense to get into a rhythm when things are simplified.

Yes, you run the risk of a quick 3-and-out. But, it’s clear the typical offensive game plan isn’t working.

The offense had the most success– albeit against SC State– when it ran with tempo in the first quarter. If that can be done and it builds Uiagalelei’s confidence along the way, it seems like a win-win.