It took a while, but Clemson finally got its act together Saturday afternoon.
A 27-21 win against previously unbeaten Syracuse and an ACC-record 38th consecutive home victory.
This latest triumph against Syracuse didn’t come without plenty of hand-wringing. The Tigers — thanks to four turnovers, including three by quarterback DJ Uiagalelei — found themselves in a rather precarious position, trailing 21-10 late in the third quarter and appearing to have no momentum.
Enter Cade Klubnik.
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Klubnik, the highly regarded freshman quarterback who had logged only two snaps in the Tigers’ last four games while Uiagalelei seemed to find his range, promptly led Clemson on a 15-play, 80-yard scoring drive, reinjecting life not only into his team but into a Death Valley crowd that had lost much of its early-game raucousness.
A few minutes later, after running back Will Shipley had broken free for a 50-yard touchdown run, Klubnik scrambled around and bought enough time to deliver a nifty two-point conversion pass to Joseph Ngata for a 24-21 lead.
Clemson’s defense appeared to feed off the offensive success and began to ratchet up its effort, throttling the Syracuse offense time and again.
Bottom line? Klubnik didn’t post eye-popping numbers – six rushes for 15 yards and 2-of-4 passing for 19 yards – but he provided a much-needed jolt of energy at the right time and Clemson moved closer to a seventh ACC Atlantic Division title in eight years.
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“Cade came in and got the job done,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
The big question looking ahead as Clemson enters a bye week before a trip to Notre Dame is whether a quarterback controversy will fester during the bye week.
“Sometimes you know, Steph Curry goes 2-of-25,” Swinney said. “Your best player can sometimes have a bad day. He just got out of rhythm, made some bad plays. We needed a change. We showed we’ve got a guy that can come in there.”
But will he stay in there? Swinney appeared to be proactive in squashing that chatter.
“DJ’s our quarterback, ain’t no question about that,” Swinney said. “That’s our guy, that’s our leader. You can write that right now – DJ’s our guy. Now he’s got to play better and he will, but how about Cade Klubnik coming in here and leading these guys.”
Was Saturday’s effort just a blip on the radar for Uiagalelei, who had been impressive in recent games, or do his struggles portend that Klubnik be rewarded with more opportunities?
There’s plenty of discussion fodder not only for the water cooler but in Clemson’s planning rooms as well.