The way Clemson coach Dabo Swinney broke the news to freshman quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei seems to have been important in the way he played last week after Trevor Lawrence tested positive for COVID-19.
To hear Uiagalelei tell it, Swinney wasn’t just asking the kid to try to hold things together for a week or two and do the best he could. No, the message conveyed was that Swinney was genuinely upbeat about the opportunity not only for the young quarterback but also for the team to show what it could do without its superstar. Both aspects could ultimately help top-ranked Clemson (7-0, 6-0 ACC) on this road to what the Tigers hope is a national championship.
“(Swinney) said he was super excited to see me play,” Uiagalelei said. “Even though Trevor was out, he said he was was super excited. He was so happy. He couldn’t wait for me to start.”
Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei(5) warms up during pregame before the game against Boston College, October 31, 2020; Clemson, South Carolina, USA; at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Josh Morgan -USA TODAY Sports (Photo: Josh Morgan, Josh Morgan-USA TODAY Sports)
Self-doubt is not something that Uiagalelei seems to have anyway. But the confidence shown by his coach in what could’ve been a moment of panic behind the scenes was an added boost only two days from last week’s game against Boston College.
“When your head coach has confidence in you, it just gives you a lot of confidence in yourself,” Uiagalelei said. “When you head coach shows he believes in you, that means a lot. It was big for him to say that to me.”
That confidence never wavered when Clemson fell behind by 18 points in the first half. Third-string quarterback Taisun Phommachanh never warmed up. Uiagalelei led the Tigers to their biggest comeback victory ever at Memorial Stadium, rallying for a 34-28 win. He finished with 342 passing yards (30-for-41) with two touchdowns and no interceptions, also scoring on a 30-yard run.
Uiagalelei will get his second career start 7:30 p.m. Saturday at fourth-ranked Notre Dame (5-0, 4-0) in the biggest college football game in the country this season and a stage that doesn’t seem as if it will be overwhelming for the freshman.
“His poise is special,” Swinney said. “That’s one of the things that makes him unique. We saw that early when he got here in the spring. He’s very calm. Maybe he’s like a duck on a pond. Maybe those feet are running a hundred miles an hour under water. I don’t know.”
Uiagalelei found out he was going to be the starter at about noon last Thursday.
“I was in the film room,” he