Clemson Football: Does DJU have “it”?

Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei (5) runs near Wake Forest defensive end Jacorey Johns during the fourth quarter at Truist Field in Winston-Salem, North Carolina Saturday, September 24, 2022.Ncaa Football Clemson At Wake Forest
Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei (5) runs near Wake Forest defensive end Jacorey Johns during the fourth quarter at Truist Field in Winston-Salem, North Carolina Saturday, September 24, 2022.Ncaa Football Clemson At Wake Forest /

Clemson Football got a much-needed road victory over a Top 25 team in Winston-Salem on Saturday, and it was a bit surprising. The win wasn’t a surprise, but rather how it came together was unexpected.

Would you have believed me in the preseason if I told you the Tigers would beat the Demon Deacons in an overtime shootout on the road when the defensive line couldn’t handle the mesh and the defensive backfield was getting eaten alive by Sam Hartman, Jahmal Banks & AT Perry?

If you did believe me, you would probably have assumed that Cade Klubnik was the best thing since sliced bread. I mean, DJ Uiagalelei couldn’t pull that off, right? Right?

How things have changed in a month. It was DJU who led the Tigers to this victory. He had 371 passing yards and five touchdowns. He did get the best performance of the year by the receivers and tight ends, but receivers can’t throw to themselves. DJU is the reason Clemson has a one game lead on Wake Forest in the ACC Atlantic and an important tiebreaker.

There have always been people who have supported DJ and thought highly of him. There are people who still refuse to think of him as a good player.

The biggest difference from 2021 to 2022 is that last season, the people who wanted to believe DJ was a good player had to put a spin on reality to make their argument. This season, it’s the people who don’t want to acknowledge DJ’s good performance who must find every possible shred of ‘less than perfect’ they can assemble in a vain attempt to sound credible.

To understand where DJU is today, we need to consider his entire journey. DJ started off hot as a backup to Trevor Lawrence, and then struggled mightily in 2021. It was fair to think the small 2020 sample was fool’s gold. Thus far in 2022, he is playing very well, with more confidence than we have seen in a long time.

Where is DJ right now? Is the 2020 DJ back? Numbers would suggest he is back. His Quarterback Rating for 2022 is 155.6. His 2020 QBR was 146.4. He is at 64.3% completion percentage in 2022, compared to 66.7% in 2020. Both of those measurables are distinct improvements over his 2021 numbers (108.7 QBR & 55.6% completions).

The Tigers are only four games into the 2022 schedule. I hope DJ continues his high level of play for the rest of the season, but it feels presumptive to assume that all the obstacles are out of his way. There are eight games left in the regular season, with several good defenses left to play, including the North Carolina State Wolfpack this coming weekend.

Perhaps the best question is “Does DJ have ‘it’?” What is ‘it’ for that matter?

Bill Barnwell said this some years ago:

"“It Factor” can mean just about anything you want it to mean, truthfully. The word is often synonymous with “intangibles,” which itself has been twisted to mean something like “things that can’t be measured that we will try to measure anyway.”"

It-Factor isn’t just a term used in football or sports, but across many disciplines and industries. It is almost always tied to a description of talent and/or performing in some way: sports, music, acting, public speaking, negotiation, teaching, parenting, etc.

This may be simplistic, but I associate It-Factor with someone being a natural for the position. Does the person in question handle their position/duties like they are second nature to them? Do they look like they’ve been doing them for forever, even if they just started recently? Do they exude leadership with people on their team who have barely worked/played with them before?

One of the first things I said to a friend when I saw Deshaun Watson get his first start against the North Carolina Tar Heels in 2014 was that he was a natural – he just looked like he had been running that offense at that level for years. I believed Watson had ‘it’ very early in his career.

Interestingly, I didn’t get that impression from Lawrence right away. I could tell he had a big arm, and he was a large human being but that was about it at first. Honestly, he looked awkward. He didn’t look like an athlete. He mishandled snaps. One time he tried to throw the ball and it just slipped out of his hand. It took most of the season for me to feel like he had “it”. He is a good example that ‘natural’ isn’t always ‘instinctive’. Sometimes natural comes from settling in and feeling comfortable.

I think that is where DJU is right now: trying to get comfortable. Even in 2020 against Boston College and Notre Dame, he didn’t quite look ‘natural’ in the offense. He had a lot of passing yards, but if you go back and watch the tape, there were several mishaps and awkward moments, especially in the first half of each game. I noticed this at the time, but I dismissed it because I figured no one would look ‘right’ running an offense that we had seen Lawrence master for over two years. Certainly DJ would get all those wrinkled ironed out. No big whoop.

When the Tigers opened against Georgia in 2021, suddenly that awkwardness was on full display. It was painfully clear that DJU didn’t have command of the offense. It wasn’t about knowing the playbook; it was about the confidence to execute the playbook.

Does DJU look comfortable running the offense now? Almost. There are clear signs that he feels better now. If he can deliver a completion on a two-point conversion when someone is lifting his left leg off the ground without panicking, then he definitely feels more confident in his abilities.

Does he have ‘it’? I think he is getting there, but he needs to get past a few hurdles. This weekend will be huge for DJ’s college career. Not only does he have the chance to avenge a loss to the Wolfpack in 2021, but he is no longer in the background. The defense has issues, and the team will now be looking for the offense to lead the way while the defense gets right. For the first time in a long time, the team will be looking to DJU to put the game on his shoulders and lead them to victory.

Clemson football quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei is off to a great start in 2022, yet doubters remain, some who likely haven’t watched him play this season

As natural as Watson looked when he got his first start, it probably wasn’t until he put the team on his shoulders and led them to victory against South Carolina I 2014, despite being injured at the time.

Next. Corso wasn't completely wrong. dark

Uiagalelei’s biggest test will be this weekend against NC State. If he has ‘it’, we will find out soon.