Clemson’s DJ Uiagalelei got off to a bad start – but won’t go to the bullpen

CLEMSON Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei is like a baseball starting pitcher who was pulled in the fifth inning after seven straight quality outs.

He is not being moved to the bullpen.

Rookie backup Cade Klubnik came in relieved on Saturday at Memorial Stadium and clinched the win, ending a game in which Clemson came from behind and beat Syracuse, 27-21, at Memorial Stadium. Klubnik led two consecutive touchdowns to put the Tigers ahead in the fourth quarter.

Fifth-ranked Clemson (8-0, 6-0 ACC) heads into an open date and then into a No. 5 high-profile game at Notre Dame, where Uiagalelei thrived two years ago as a rookie, throwing for more yards than anyone opponent in Fighting Irish history.

Clemson will not have a starting rookie in South Bend, Ind., for two straight games. Despite his obvious struggles on Saturday, two interceptions and a fumble that was returned for a touchdown, Uiagalelei is the man.

“DJ is our starter. DJ is our leader,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “Nothing has changed there. You guys can go ahead and type that out.”

Takeaways: Clemson Football Backup QB Cade Klubnik leads in 27-21 comeback win against Syracuse

Notes: Bulletin: Clemson football gets good marks for strong second half

Counterpoint: Cade Klubnik defends being Clemson football’s starting QB after playing hero against Syracuse

Uiagalelei earned that right.

It’s not like last year when he struggled to this point in the season, actually, and still guided Clemson to a 10-win season. He played full games because there was nobody better in the pen.

Clemson has a future star out there right now. But as good as he is, Klubnik has barely warmed up in his last four games against ACC opponents. There’s a reason for that. Uiagalelei has been dominant.

This time, Swinney went to the mound to catch Uiagalelei with the Tigers behind and the bases loaded.

“Just a different tone,” Swinney said. “Sometimes, a holder goes there on the mountain and doesn’t have his stuff that day and you have to bring someone else. It kind of gave us a different look.

“I was very proud of (Klubnik). It was a difficult situation to be placed (losing 21-10) as a substitute. … You don’t want to be down by 11 in the fourth quarter and say, “Go get ’em, boy. Let’s go.’ He replied.”

Would Swinney be more likely to make a mid-game change knowing what Klubnik might do if Uiagalelei fights again?

“I hope we don’t have any problems,” Swinney said. “But if we do, it’s nice to know we have another guy.”

Swinney’s confidence in Uiagalelei is reassuring to him. But so is having a good reliever, he said.

“I appreciate Coach Swinney. That’s the kind of coach you want to play for,” Uiagalelei said. “I would also say that Cade came in and played amazing. He got us, man. He won that football game for us, along with the offensive line and running backs. Shout out to (number) 2. He did an unbelievable job managing the game. He just went there and trusted himself. I was so proud of Cade today.”

“DJ is such a loving guy. Our relationship is so strong,” Klubnik said. “… He said he was proud of me. I just told him, ‘Brother, this is your team. You may have had a bad game, but this is your team.”