Swinney pinpoints 'biggest difference' in Uiagalelei's performance since last season

Swinney pinpoints 'biggest difference' in Uiagalelei's performance since last season

Football

Swinney pinpoints 'biggest difference' in Uiagalelei's performance since last season

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It’s not exactly a secret at this point that D.J. Uiagalelei hasn’t looked nearly the same as he did filling in for Trevor Lawrence last season, and some of that is on Clemson’s sophomore quarterback.

Uiagalelei has had his issues when it comes to accuracy and touch, and he still has yet to find the mark on a true deep ball when those opportunities have presented themselves against man coverage. He’s thrown just five touchdowns in six games and will head to No. 23 Pittsburgh on Saturday with the third-lowest completion rate among starting quarterbacks in the ACC (55.7)

But Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said he believes the primary difference in this version of Uiagalelei and what the Tigers got from him in two spot starts last season lies in his supporting cast.

Swinney said Uiagaleli’s predecessors, which include another NFL quarterback, Deshaun Watson, had their share of growing pains, too, as youngsters. But Swinney noted those offenses — particularly the units that helped the Tigers win national titles in 2016 and 2018 — didn’t have to start over with as many inexperienced players at multiple positions the way this one has, particularly along an offensive line that’s had constantly moving parts.

“Just like we’re in transition at quarterback, we’re in transition everywhere else,” Swinney said. “We’ve had three different centers and eight different starters on the (offensive line). We’ve never had that in six games. So we just don’t have the continuity, and we haven’t had the consistency in performance around him.

“Not that he’s playing perfect. He’s played two pretty dang good games (against Boston College and Syracuse), and he’s getting better. Kind of fought his way through the fog, and I really think he’s turned the corner. But we just haven’t been as good around him. It’s just that simple.”

Uiagalelei completed 69% of his passes for 781 yards and five touchdowns when Lawrence had to sit last season after coming down with COVID-19. While those numbers haven’t come close to being duplicated this season, he had his most efficient game in nearly a month against Syracuse with a completion rate of nearly 62%. It could’ve been even more productive if not for a handful of drops by his receivers.

If it’s not Uiagalelei struggling to make plays, it’s his teammates around him. That’s been the story all season for an offense that’s still growing up.

“When Trevor showed up, that was a national championship team and a national championship offensive line,” Swinney said. “National championship receivers. We were a veteran group. And same thing when Deshaun came in here. We had just a little more continuity around the quarterback. To me, that’s the biggest difference.

“D.J. is going to be just fine, and the rest of it will come together. Hopefully it will be this year and we’ll get this thing rolling like I know we can. But when it’s all said and done, he’ll be just fine.”

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