Clemson Football is once again ACC champions, and Cade Klubnik is the championship game MVP.
There’s an old saying in football: the backup quarterback is always the fan’s favorite quarterback.
There have been few people who haven’t been frustrated with DJ Uiagalelei. Even when he has a decent game, there is usually a stretch when the offense goes stagnant.
Many have commented that Clemson just didn’t seem to have a killer instinct. While lapses on defense contributed to that from time to time, usually it was the offense that sputtered.
It was worse at some points than others. Against Syracuse, DJ just played poorly. Klubnik came in and the team was able to come back and win.
Against Notre Dame, Klubnik was called on again. He struggled and threw an interception.
Last week I speculated that the reason the coaches didn’t insert Klubnik against the Gamecocks was that they didn’t want to set Klubnik up to fail. I think they reasoned that they made a mistake against the Irish.
Like I said last week, I’m not an insider. I don’t have anyone inside the program feeding me information. I am basing this off what the insiders have reported and shaped it with my personal opinions.
In hindsight, I think my speculation is still correct. The circumstances when they put Klubnik in against Notre Dame were not favorable. It was later in the game. The Irish were playing with a lot of confidence. The Tigers weren’t. The offense was buried deep in their territory.
There was a big difference between the way the South Carolina game went in contrast to the ACC championship.
Against the Gamecocks, the Tigers started well. DJ wasn’t great, but he moved the offense down the field for a touchdown, and Jeremiah Trotter’s pick-six put the Tigers up by two touchdowns. He led another touchdown drive in the second quarter.
I understand there are DJ detractors who will never accept this, but I think from the staff’s perspective, discussing a quarterback change wasn’t warranted until later in the game. I think the staff thought putting Klubnik in at that point was risky. The payoff to that risk was the immediate benefit of winning on that day. If things went bad, it could have negatively impacted Klubnik in the long term long beyond a single game against South Carolina.
I think they chose to protect the long-term. I also think they did a post-mortem on that game and questioned themselves. I don’t think they questioned the decision they made in the 4th quarter. I think they questioned why they hadn’t made an effort to get Klubnik more time earlier in their game plans. I think they learned they needed to be more assertive about putting Cade in before they found themselves in crisis mode. Swinney said the decision to put Cade in the game when they did was decided before the game started. The decision to keep him in the game was the result of his play.
The ACC championship started differently than the SC game. DJ came out and looked bad in the first two series. Even though UNC already had the lead, there was a lot of game left to play. The Tar Heel defense is also one of the lowest-ranked defenses in the Power Five.
When Klubnik entered the game, the entire energy of the crowd shifted. I think the team’s energy shifted too.
I think lifting the energy of a team after the adversity of a couple of bad series to start a game is a different animal from having to lift a team that is in crisis mode.
There will be a lot of second guessing about the 2022 season, but the direction of Clemson Football is clear
There are a lot of Clemson fans condemning Coach Swinney and the staff for not playing Cade against the Gamecocks. They think the Tigers would be in the playoffs right now if they had put him in the game.
There are a lot of Clemson fans condemning Coach Swinney and the staff for not playing Cade the whole season. They think the Tigers would be challenging for a national title if he had started this season.
Maybe they are right.
Maybe if Coach Swinney and the staff had put Klubnik in the game against the Gamecocks in a difficult situation, he wouldn’t have thrived when they did put him in the ACC championship in a situation set up for him to succeed.
Maybe their real mistake was not getting Klubnik playing time earlier in games earlier in the season.
At this point, the only thing we can be certain of is that many fans have already made up their minds about what has happened up until now. As for the future, I think most everyone is on the same page. This is Cade Klubnik’s team.