Clemson Football: Klubnik’s development must continue

Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei (5) and quarterback Cade Klubnik (2) during warm ups before game at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia Monday, September 5, 2022.Ncaa Fb Clemson At Georgia Tech
Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei (5) and quarterback Cade Klubnik (2) during warm ups before game at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia Monday, September 5, 2022.Ncaa Fb Clemson At Georgia Tech /

One of the high points of Monday night’s opener against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Mercedes-Benz Stadium came late in the game for Clemson football fans. After acquiring a 34-10 lead, the Tigers inserted true freshman quarterback Cade Klubnik into the game.

Klubnik was a 5-star recruit in the 247 Composite for the Class of 2022. He finished the cycle ranked 6th overall nationally and was the #1 quarterback. He wasn’t considered to be the same caliber as Trevor Lawrence or Justin Fields coming out of high school, but he was thought of as a prospect who could grow into a star college quarterback. In other words, he was going to be great one day but he wasn’t likely to step in day one and lead you to a national championship like Lawrence.

Klubnik likely would have been simply the next guy in line to be Clemson’s quarterback had DJ Uiagalelei had the kind of 2021 season most of us expected. After DJU’s two starts in relief of Lawrence, who had tested positive for COVID-19, expectations were that he would run the offense for two seasons until he was eligible to declare for the NFL Draft, at which point Klubnik would take the reins as a true sophomore.

Things certainly did not work out as expected. DJU struggled in 2021. His first start that season was against the defense of the team that would eventually win the national championship, the Georgia Bulldogs. DJ had the distinction of being the only quarterback in that game to have a completion for a touchdown. Unfortunately, that completion was a Georgia interception, and it was the difference in the game. That’s a hard pill to swallow for a young man like DJ.

The rest of the offense wasn’t very good either that night, but as the quarterback, the spotlight was on DJ. He was a nationally known player. He was one of the earliest college players to land a national NIL deal. He was expected to put the team on his shoulders and lead them to the promised land. Then everything fell apart.

We saw improvement from DJ and the rest of the offense as the season progressed, but by then the damage was done. Clemson’s playoff hopes faded following their second loss against the NC State Wolfpack, and then their ACC Atlantic championship aspirations were dashed by a third loss to the Pitt Panthers.

It sounds like the real damage done, however, was to DJ. We became aware that there were things off the field that impacted him. Most of us felt awful for him, but he isn’t the first college football player to have to deal with domestic issues. As time went by, the people who are close to the program began referring to his mentality as a player, and the need for the coaching staff to build his confidence. Perhaps more directly, there were those who voiced concern that if the staff didn’t manage him just the right way, it could shatter what confidence he had left.

Many wouldn’t expound upon the hints we were getting during the 2021 season, and that is understandable. Sometimes, we as fans must ‘read the tea leaves’. I don’t think that observers and professionals who call the games would continually refer to DJ’s mentality if there wasn’t a concern out there that he doesn’t handle adversity well. I think it is fair to argue that his confidence was severely shaken against Georgia last year, and given the rest of the problems with the offense, it was a big task to get his confidence back.

Similarly, when DJ threw the shovel pass against Pitt that was intercepted for the touchdown, his confidence was shaken again. This time the staff did pull DJ out of the game so he could compose himself. Once he was ready, they put him back in the game. The staff handled that situation well, and one could argue that it might have made a huge impact on DJ’s development since that day.

That DJ could make another mistake that could get in his head again is a very real possibility. I think we saw a small example of it Labor Day night when DJ had two errors – a muffed snap and a fumble – that caused the first two offensive drives to end prematurely. The offense was fairly stagnant after that until the special teams blocked their first punt of the evening and gave them a short field. Even then, it was well into the third quarter before things got better, when DJ improvised and found Shipley for a quick pitch that turned a sure loss into a big gain and a first down. You could see the energy flow back into DJ, and from that point on, he looked good.

It’s imperative that Clemson football continue to develop freshman quarterback Cade Klubnik

It just goes to show how fickle momentum can be in football, but the possibility of a catastrophic mistake exists, and that is why it is critical for this team to get Cade Klubnik as many reps as possible in the next two games against Furman and Louisiana Tech. Klubnik needs to be ready in case he is called upon at any time.

The initial returns on Klubnik were promising. He mostly worked with Clemson’s reserves, but he was 4 of 6 passing with a touchdown throw to Will Taylor. He looked sharp & comfortable, two things we don’t always see from DJ.

The next steps would be to get him in the game with the starters. I think the staff needs to say upfront that Klubnik will play the 3rd series, and maybe the fourth, against Furman, regardless of DJ’s performance on the first two drives. That way it can’t possibly be conceived by anyone as a slight to DJ, simply a plan to bring their backup quarterback along to be ready in case he is called upon for any reason.

Next. The case for D.J. Uiagalelei. dark

Because one of those reasons could pop up at any time.