DJ Uiagalelei secured Clemson’s protection this time

DJ Uiagalelei throws 371 yards and 5 touches in Clemson's 51-45 win over Wake Forest

DJ Uiagalelei throws 371 yards and 5 touches the ball into the net Wake Forest
Picture: beautiful pictures

Clemson fans finally got the game from DJ Uiagalelei they’ve been waiting for, finishing with 371 yards of passes and five touchdowns. You might think that kind of day would lead to the knocking of the 21st Awakened Forest with the defense we’re used to seeing from the Tigers. After two innings and a total of more than 1,000 yards, the longtime tournament champions eliminated the reigning ACC kings, 51-45.

Demon Deacon QB Sam Hartman made six touchdown passes, repeatedly hitting the receiver for big innings – or intervening flags – until the second extra time when hopes of an upset were dashed in fourth time down the final area. Winger Tiger Nate Wiggins, who had been targeted all day, caused the game’s closing pass to break, and Dabo Swinney’s team exited Winston-Salem with their winning streak – now 10 – still intact.

It’s comforting when Uiagalelei’s performance is like that, the defense is also worrying. The defensive front didn’t have one of its best players, so they weren’t at full strength. However, they have made some hints over the past few weeks that they may be short of coordinator Brent Venables, and now those signs are flashing bright red.

I liked Wake Forest’s chances in Saturday’s game, but my question was more about the midfielder. Clemson has allowed more than 40 points only five times over the past five years. Notre Dame, LSU, Ohio State and Pitt were responsible for the previous four seasons, and now Wake Forest is on that list.

In addition to owning a play in the final 14 seconds of the first half, Wake scored on five consecutive occasions from the second to the fourth. Dave Clawson’s insistence on running for Deacs’ last chance with a set score – Clemson’s only stop in the second half – is an odd strategy considering how hot Hartman is.

Saying Dabo out-coached him might not be accurate either as his equally hot offense wasn’t even given a chance to get within field goal range with 49 seconds left to try to win the game sans OT, and Wake hemorrhaging yards. (He also ran his kicker out for a 52-yarder to tie the game with four minutes left in the game, and his trust was rewarded as B.T. Potter drilled the kick.)

The day belonged to Uiagalelei though. This was the exact type of command and playmaking Clemson fans have been waiting for out of him, and it came in a high-pressure situation. The 371 yards passing is the second highest output of his career, and his first game with 300-plus yards since Nov. 7, 2020. The five passing scores are a career-high by three TDs.

He made plenty of tough throws, but the hardest came on a two-point conversion in the third quarter to tie the contest at 28. Under pressure, with a Deacon holding his leg, he found receiver Beaux Collins despite only having one foot on the ground.

Even though Wake’s defense leaves a lot to be desired — the fangless three-man rushes allowed Uiagalelei enough time to write a memoir — this was as perfect of a game as a quarterback can play.

No. 12 NC State and QB Devin Leary visit Death Valley next week, and if the Wolfpack can get by UConn, College Gameday could find itself with another orange-heavy destination. The Clemson defense will have another veteran quarterback to contain, but that can be said of both teams.

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