D.J. Uiagalelei hasn’t had what Clemson coach Dabo Swinney would categorize as a bad day during fall camp. It’s just that Thursday was better than the rest for the Tigers’ quarterback.
“He’s been kind of steadily getting better as camp has gone on, and I thought he had his best day today,” Swinney said.
Uiagalelei saved his best for last with Clemson wrapping up fall camp with its second and final scrimmage. As the sophomore gets set to take over the reins of the Tigers’ offense from No. 1 overall draft pick Trevor Lawrence, Swinney has praised Uiagalelei throughout the last 16 days with the way he’s handled his preparation, particularly given everything he’s seen from the other side of the ball.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables has purposefully dialed up just about every alignment up front and blitz on the back end in an effort to keep Uiagalelei from being caught off guard by anything he might see from opponents starting Sept. 4 when Clemson opens its season against Georgia in Charlotte.
If there’s a complaint Swinney has had with his young signal caller during camp, it’s been Uiagalelei’s tendency to get lackadaisical with some of his fundamentals and mechanics. On Thursday, that wasn’t an issue.
In fact, there wasn’t much Swinney didn’t like about the way Uiagalelei performed on a day when the offense turned in a crisper performance than the Tigers’ first scrimmage over the weekend. The group was sharper from a procedural standpoint, and Swinney said there were a number of explosive plays with Uiagalelei giving his receivers opportunities for more.
“Just command of everything that he’s doing,” Swinney said. “Fundamentally, I thought he was his best today. Made the right decisions. Made some critical plays in critical times. Should’ve had a couple of more that we dropped that were put right on the money. But very clean. Very clean with his exchanges, clean with his footwork and made all the calls right.”
Swinney said the 6-foot-5, 247-pounder also made some plays with his legs, though Swinney didn’t reveal whether they were designed runs or off script. Swinney said there weren’t many aspects of the game where Uiagalelei didn’t seem to be locked in, which is no small detail given the role he’s stepping into.
Uiagalelei played in 10 games as a true freshman last season and got a pair of surprise starts against Boston College and Notre Dame after COVID-19 protocols sidelined Lawrence for a couple of games during the regular season. Uiagalelei completed nearly 67% of his passes for 914 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions, four of those touchdowns coming in his two starts.
Uiagalelei has seemingly picked up where he left off as he embarks on his first season as the Tigers’ full-time signal caller. He’s preparing like it, too.
“I just thought he had a game-like mentality today,” Swinney said. “I could see him really pushing himself to make every rep a game rep, and it was good to see.”