Coaches, teammates and the rest of college football are seeing a different version of D.J. Uiagalelei early this season.
Clemson’s quarterback caught his share of criticism a season ago as the Tigers’ offensive production plummeted compared to the numbers it’s put up in the recent past. Uiagalelei’s 55.6% completion rate in his first year as the Tigers’ full-time starter was second-lowest among ACC quarterbacks, and he threw more interceptions (10) than touchdown passes (9).
It’s been a different story for Uiagalelei through two games this season. Uiagalelei is among the league’s top 5 signal callers in efficiency, completing his passes at a 67.8% clip. And while he hasn’t been perfect – he lost a fumble in the opener against Georgia Tech and threw his first interception last week against Furman – Uiagalelei has a 2-to-1 touchdown-to-turnover ratio going.
Since fumbling early in the opener against Tech, Uiagalelei has found his groove. He’s accounted for all four of his touchdowns while completing nearly 68% of his passes over the last seven quarters, which includes perhaps Uiagalelei’s best performance in a Clemson uniform. He went 21 of 27 passing with two touchdowns in Clemson’s win over Furman, posting the highest completion percentage (77.8%) and passer rating (166.7) of his career.
“He’s super confident and super comfortable,” senior offensive lineman Jordan McFadden said. “You can tell he’s got his swagger back. As a quarterback, confidence is huge. Just to see the confidence he’s playing with and how much more he’s leading verbally and different things like, it’s so encouraging to be around.”
Uiagalelei largely agreed with his teammate’s assessment of where he is now, which is a far cry from where he was much of last season after a promising true freshman season in 2020. A former five-star recruit, Uiagalelei flashed the kind of potential in spot starts against Boston College and Notre Dame that season that made him a popular Heisman Trophy pick heading into last season.
In addition to more consistent accuracy in the passing game, Uiagalelei said one of the biggest differences in his play early this year is the confidence he has in reading defenses and going through his progressions now that he’s had another year in the Tigers’ offense.
“I think I’m a little more comfortable than I was last year read-wise and just feeling the game. I felt calm out there (last week),” Uiagalelei said. “The game’s starting to slow down a little bit.”
Uiagalelei also knows he and his offense are only as good as their last performance. There are still at least 10 games left on the Tigers’ schedule starting Saturday when Louisiana Tech visits Memorial Stadium. Then it’s off to Wake Forest next week for both teams’ ACC opener.
Uiagalalei said the key to keeping his momentum going starts with the preparation regardless of the opponent.
“Coach (Brandon) Streeter says that a lot,” Uiagalelei said. “Lean on the work that I put in each and every week just preparing for each opponent. I think just leaning on the confidence of that and the preparation.”
Dear Old Clemson is excited to announce a limited edition football and poster signed by Clemson’s Avengers.
Now there is a new way you can support Clemson student-athletes. Purchase collectibles from Dear Old Clemson and the proceeds with go to support Clemson student-athletes. Visit Dear Old Clemson to find out how you can help!