Clemson Football has completed a 10-2 regular season, claimed the ACC Atlantic Division title, and will play North Carolina for the ACC Championship this weekend.
That’s good, but you wouldn’t know it right now because the loss to South Carolina has cast a cloud over the season.
One of the most commonly asked questions is why didn’t Coach Swinney and the staff put Cade Klubnik in the game for DJ Uiagalelei.
DJ had a dreadful game, and I had the same expectation after his poorly thrown pass to Davis Allen was intercepted.
I thought Klubnik could possibly create a spark for the offense. Yet he never got in the game. Why? Here is the best answer I can give you.
Remember: I’m not an insider. This is my best guess based on the facts we know.
DJ has played average to above average in nine of the twelve games played this season. I know many fans would tell you otherwise but there has been quite a bit of rewritten history over the past few days.
Contrast this with DJ playing average in only two of thirteen games played in 2021, and you can see why a few of us still defend the reality that DJ has improved quite a bit in the big picture. I’ll delve into that more later in December, but back to the subject at hand.
DJ played below average three times in 2022: against Syracuse, at Notre Dame, and against South Carolina.
The staff played Klubnik in relief of DJ against Syracuse and at Notre Dame, with drastically different results.
The team made the comeback against the Orange with Klubnik at the helm. When he entered against the Irish, he quickly threw an interception deep in Clemson territory, and the Tigers were thoroughly defeated.
What was the difference?
Against Syracuse, DJ was the only dud. Everyone else was playing well. The defense gave up a couple of scores early, but DJ’s turnovers contributed to that. Otherwise, the balance of the team was playing well enough to win the game.
Klubnik protected the ball, and the offense operated efficiently enough that the Tigers made the comeback. Klubnik didn’t do anything special. His best plays were getting pushed out of bounds and drawing a pass interference call on a prayer into the end zone.
Against Notre Dame, it wasn’t just DJ playing poorly. Nobody played well. Klubnik isn’t a miracle worker. He had no help from anyone else. It wasn’t shocking that things went bad very quickly. The entire team played awful football that night.
The staff rolled the dice by putting Klubnik in against Notre Dame, and I agree with the gamble. There is always the chance that a new quarterback can create a spark. It just didn’t work in that situation, and I think they learned a lesson from the results of that gamble.
I think Clemson Football coaches decided they wouldn’t put Klubnik in another bad situation, the way they did at Notre Dame
It takes two things to create a spark: flint and steel. If you have one without the other, then you have no spark.
The circumstances this past Saturday were much more similar to those we saw in South Bend than to those we saw in Death Valley against the Orange.
I think that is why we didn’t see Cade Klubnik against the Gamecocks. The staff realized he wouldn’t have any help out there, and they would just be setting him up to fail. Even if Klubnik had the flint, the team had no steel to make the spark.
It’s like replacing the ruined couch in the kid’s playroom with a brand new expensive sofa. You know the kids will just spill their chocolate milk all over it again.
Maybe I’m wrong, but all the factors fit the circumstances we can see. This doesn’t mean Klubnik won’t continue to grow as a quarterback. I have high hopes for him in 2023. I just don’t think he was ready this season. If Klubnik had played the entire year, I don’t think Clemson would have finished any better than they did with DJ, and very possibly would have been worse.
If the game hasn’t slowed down enough for Klubnik to be comfortable, then it doesn’t make much sense to send him into a game where he can’t at least feel confident that he can rely on his teammates.
The staff made that mistake in South Bend. I think they decided to not repeat it this past Saturday.