Standing on the sideline during Saturday’s game at Notre Dame, Clemson defensive end K.J. Henry was in awe as he watched his team’s uber-talented freshman quarterback, D.J. Uiagalelei, play the way he did in the primetime, top-four matchup against the Fighting Irish in South Bend.
“It’s breathtaking, honestly. It is really amazing,” Henry said on Monday, reflecting on Uiagalelei’s performance in his first career road start. “I know where my mind was, where I was as a freshman, and it teaches you so many lessons and opportunities like that – number one, that we all have a different path. God has a different path for us, and there’s enough success in the world for all of us, for sure. And it was cool to see. It really, really was.”
Although the Tigers fell to the Irish in double-overtime, 47-40, it wasn’t the fault of Uiagalelei, who went 29-of-44 passing for 439 yards – the third-most passing yards in a game in Clemson history, the most ever by a freshman in school history and the most ever thrown against Notre Dame by an opposing quarterback, breaking the mark of 425 held by Southern Cal’s Carson Palmer in 2002.
Uiagalelei also recorded three total touchdowns on passes of 53 and 10 yards to Cornell Powell and Davis Allen, respectively, and a 1-yard rush in the first overtime period.
“He played a great game. I told him that today,” Henry said. “Obviously, he felt like he didn’t do enough. But even in times like this, you have to let the kid know he balled out and definitely did everything he could do to put us in a place to be successful. And on the sideline, I was doing nothing but cheering for him. I think the jitters were definitely there for all of us last weekend, and he balled out, and ever since then I ain’t worried a second about him.”
In seven games this season, Uiagalelei has completed 68.3 percent of his passing attempts for 883 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions, while rushing for four more scores. A week after helping Clemson overcome an 18-point deficit to beat Boston College in his first career start – Clemson’s largest comeback victory ever at Death Valley – Uiagalelei helped the Tigers rally from multiple double-digit deficits over the course of Saturday’s game at Notre Dame.
Henry says Uiagalelei has the type of effect on the game and his teammates that star quarterback Trevor Lawrence has and displayed during his first season at Clemson as well, in 2018 when he became the first freshman starting quarterback to lead his team to a national title since Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway in 1985.
“He’s going to be a great player for us and has already shown that he is right now,” Henry said. “So, I cheer for him and I’m excited to be a part of it. It’s kind of that Trevor effect, for sure. Just glad to be a part of the ride, and you can’t forget we wear the same number, so it’s fun being beside him every day and stuff like that. He’s a great player.”
After watching Uiagalelei make the type of throws he did against Boston College and Notre Dame, and knowing the cannon Uiagalelei has for an arm, Henry is glad he chose to be a defensive end and not a tight end.
“D.J. is stronger than Trevor in my opinion. Trevor is very weak,” Henry joked. “Nah, I’m just playing. But D.J. has made a couple of throws like that for sure. I’d say the one that comes to mind is the back-shoulder throw to Amari a couple weeks ago (vs. BC). I just feel like it got there so fast. Some plays over the middle of the field to Cornell last week, got there so fast. And throwing screens and what not, I just feel like every time he throws the ball, I feel like it gets there so fast.
“And it’s definitely one of those things where I might have made the right decision to play D-end instead of tight end, because if he was throwing me the ball like that, I don’t know how confident I would be in catching. I definitely have the best hands on the D-line, but it’s questionable because he definitely has an arm on him. So, there’s been a lot of instances.”
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