Down 18 with 62 seconds left to play in the first half last Saturday, D.J. Uiagalelei did not panic. Instead, he went back on Frank Howard Field and guided Clemson on a quick 42-yard, 10-play drive in 55 seconds, setting up B.T. Potter’s 50-yard field goal with seven seconds left.
The Tigers’ quarterback started the second half by engineering a seven-play, 56-yard drive, which he capped off by keeping the ball on a run-pass-option call and racing 30 yards around the right side for a touchdown.
Eventually, Uiagalelei rallied top-ranked Clemson to a 34-28 victory over Boston College, while throwing for 342 yards and two touchdowns to go with his 30-yard touchdown run.
Now the true freshman has the task of leading Clemson into South Bend, Ind., for the first time in 41 years and beating No. 4 Notre Dame. Not an easy task for a guy who was in high school this time a year ago.
But because starter Trevor Lawrence is in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 last week, it will be up to Uiagalelei to help Clemson stay undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country.
“I talk to Coach (Brandon) Streeter. I talk to different coaches and how they want me to handle it,” Uiagalelei said. “I talk to Trevor. I think we just treat it like a normal game. It is our next game. It is our biggest game of the year because it is our next game.
“Nothing is too big. Just go out there and treat it like a normal game.”
That might be what Clemson (7-0, 6-0 ACC) is going to do, but this is far from a normal game. Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. kickoff is without a doubt the biggest game in ACC history. This is the first time a No. 1-ranked ACC team and another top 5 ACC team will square off.
Notre Dame (6-0, 5-0 ACC) does not think it is a big deal, either. Though its 22-game home winning streak will be on the line, as well as its 12-game win streak overall, the longest in the nation.
“We’re 29-3 over the last 32 games. We’re not a team that’s easily overcome with the moment,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “We’ll be just fine. We’ve got to execute and certainly the last time we played poorly, we’ve won 12 in a row.
“You’ve got to execute, you’ve got to play well in the moment, but this team has exhibited they’re not a team that’s going to back away from a challenge. When they’re down, they’ll certainly pick up their pace and answer any challenges that are in front of them. I have no question about that.”
The biggest question in this game … How will Clemson’s freshman quarterback handle the moment?
“We know D.J. is a great player, and the things that he could do. We know Clemson is going to be in great hands when Trevor decides to leave,” Clemson defensive end Xavier Thomas said. “We know D.J. is a great player, so we are not really worried as much because he can make some great things happen, as you could see this past weekend.”
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