Heading into No. 1 Clemson’s season opener at Wake Forest on Saturday night, there was the question of which quarterback – true freshman D.J. Uiagalelei or redshirt freshman Taisun Phommachanh – would be the second signal-caller to take the field after Trevor Lawrence in the probable event that the Tigers had a big lead in the second half and were able to play the backups.
That question was answered late in the third quarter when Uiagalelei entered the game to replace Lawrence, with Clemson up by 34 points in its eventual 37-13 victory at Truist Field in Winston-Salem, N.C. The former five-star prospect recorded his first completion as a Tiger on his second play from scrimmage – a 10-yard pass to Will Brown – and finished 2-of-3 for 16 yards while also rushing one time for 3 yards.
After the game, Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott was asked what separated Uiagalelei from Phommachanh and earned him the second-string role behind Lawrence.
Elliott said it was a decision made by quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter and head coach Dabo Swinney, but offered his opinion on what gave Uiagalelei the edge over Phommachanh.
“I thought that D.J. had a really good camp, has really come into his own in terms of handling the offense, being able to handle all the motions, all the shifts, all the different things that we do,” Elliott said. “He does a really good job in understanding what we want to get accomplished from a protection standpoint with our protection plan. Big arm talent, I think we all know that.”
Phommachanh came into the game midway through the fourth quarter and went 2-of-4 passing for nine yards with one carry for 7 yards. He was also intercepted by Wake Forest defensive back A.J. Williams on a second-and-7 play from the Clemson 31-yard line.
Elliott liked what he saw from both Phommachanh and Uiagalelei in fall camp and said it was a tight battle for the backup job behind Lawrence.
“I thought both of those guys had a really good camp,” he said. “It was neck and neck, and again, either one of them could have ran out there. But I would imagine in the meeting room, Coach Streeter must’ve saw something that he felt like hey, this gave D.J. the slight advantage to go out there first.”
Lawrence, who completed 22 of his 28 passes for 351 yards and one touchdown, while also rushing for a couple of scores, gave his thoughts on how Uiagalelei and Phommachanh performed in the season-opening rout of the Demon Deacons.
“Just kind of the way the game went when they went in, they didn’t have a ton of opportunities to really push the ball downfield,” Lawrence said. “At that point we were just kind of trying to get some guys some reps on the O-line, and even Taisun and D.J. We ran the ball more so than we did in the first half, but I think those guys did a great job. They were prepared. I know Taisun had that one interception, but he’ll shake that off, he’s good.
“But I think the guys really prepared. I know this week we communicated really well. They’ve been super involved, so I know they were ready to play. So, that makes me feel good, and I think our room has done a really good job of just handling the adversity and focusing and locking in, especially for this game after all the drama we’ve been through this offseason. I think us as QBs have done a really good job, as well as the team, too.”
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