Paws Up: D.J. Uiagalelei
Truly, it should come as no surprise that the number one pro-style quarterback in the 2020 class is an excellent football player. However, D.J. Uiagalelei has set the college football world on fire over the last two weeks. Uiagalelei threw for 439 passing yards during the Tigers’ game against Notre Dame. The Fightin’ Irish give up just over 211 passing yards per game on average. On the same night Uiagalelei overtook 2002 Heisman trophy winner Carson Palmer for the most passing yards in a single game against Notre Dame, he also broke Clemson legend Deshuan Watson’s freshman school record for 435 passing yards in a game. Uiagalelei is having no trouble transitioning to the college game at the highest level and has been named the ACC Rookie of the Week for two consecutive weeks.
During the postgame press conference, head coach Dabo Swinney cracked a visible smile when asked about Uiagalelei’s performance. “He’s special,” said Swinney, “I mean are you kidding me? You watch this guy play, he’s gonna be awesome. He made some incredible plays.” With Uiagalelei at the helm, Clemson football looks to be in a great position to continue its national title contention for at least the next few years.
Paws Down: Defensive Injuries
While no defensive coordinator wants to give up 47 points, it is a bit more understandable when playing a top four team on the road, and a bit more forgivable when one’s offense is able to keep up scoring at that pace. Brent Venable’s unit was banged up Saturday night and suffered even more injuries during the game. Linebackers James Skalski and Mike Jones Jr. were clearly missed on the defensive side of the ball as Notre Dame running back Kyren Williams rushed for 140 yards.
Clemson suffered several injuries during the game. “We had a lot of guys out,” said Swinney following the game Saturday night, “We lost Landon [Zanders] early. We lost Nolan [Turner]. We lost [Andrew] Booth [Jr.]. We had a bunch of guys go out. We lost [Justin] Mascoll. We lost [Bryan] Bresee there at the end. It was just a tough, tough, tough game.”
Freshman defensive lineman Bryan Bresee suffered an injury during overtime. With junior defensive end Xavier Thomas battling COVID-19 complications and a first half suspension from the Notre Dame game, the loss of Bresee will surely be missed up front for a unit that was already dominated by the Notre Dame offensive line.
Clemson football, especially Clemson’s defense, prides itself on its depth. The Tigers are quickly showing the extent of that depth, and the Clemson defense is quickly starting to look like a completely different defense entirely as more starters are injured.
Paws Up: Amari Rogers and Cornell Powell
Rogers and Powell formed a brilliant one-two punch for the Tigers against Notre Dame. Rogers was a reliable target for Uiagalelei in short-to-medium passing situations and Powell was the home run hitter, including a 53 yard touchdown reception in the first quarter.
Along with running back Travis Etienne, these two have become the top targets for Clemson quarterbacks in a year where the strength of the Clemson receiving core was in question. With former Tiger Tee Higgins off to the NFL and Justin Ross sidelined by injuries, Rogers and Etienne have shared the honor of number one pass-target in various games. Rogers caught eight passes for 134 yards (16.75 yards per catch) and Powell caught six passes for 161 yards (26.83 yards per catch).
Paws Down: Travis Etienne
Etienne did not look like the ACC’s all time leading rusher Saturday night. Etienne struggled to find holes and establish the running game for the Tigers. Etienne, who averages 7.3 yards per carry for his career, managed just 1.6 yards per carry on 18 attempts for a net gain of 28 yards. But statistics do not tell the only story of the night. During the second quarter, Etienne fumbled a pitch from Uiagalelei directly into the hands of Notre Dame defender Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, who returned the fumble for a touchdown. It is the second week in a row that a fumble by Etienne has been returned for a touchdown by the Tigers’ opponent.
The bright side for Etienne is that he has become a crucial part of the passing game. Check downs and screen passes to Etienne have become a major aspect of his game, a far cry from the combined 17 receptions he had during his freshman and sophomore years. This is a good thing to see from Etienne as the running back position evolves in the vein of NFL running backs such as the Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey. However, Etienne cannot let his run game stagnate. Look for Etienne to have a bounce-back rushing game against Florida State on Nov. 21.