Does Clemson now have a quarterback controversy on their hands?
In what has become a recurring problem for the team, the Tigers had issues moving the ball in the 27-17 loss to No. 17 Pitt. A slew of mental mistakes plagued the team as missed assignments, critical drops, and inconsistent quarterback play were again the common theme.
Dabo Swinney chose to bench D.J. Uiagalelei in the third quarter on Saturday after the starting quarterback pitched a shovel pass directly into the hands of a defender, who returned it for a touchdown. It was the second interception of the day for the struggling Uiagalelei.
Taisun Phommachanh came on in relief, playing two offensive series, going 3-7 for 23 yards, and adding 15 yards on the ground. He led the Tigers on an 11-play drive that resulted in a 42-yard field goal, then the offense went three and out on his second and final series.
Swinney was asked on Sunday about who might start this weekend when Clemson returns home to host Florida State and the head coach was non-committal.
"Every day it'll be an evaluation," Swinney said. "You know, we'll run somebody out there first on Saturday and we'll all wait and find out how the week goes because everything's gonna count."
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The head coach said he was extremely happy with how his quarterback responded to the difficult situation.
"I was very proud of D.J.," Swinney said. "He didn't pout one second, not one second. He was very engaged, very supportive, and to me, that's great leadership. You never really know what a guy's made of until his back's up against the wall and you've got bad things happening."
The benching was only temporary, though, after Uiagalelei re-entered the game early in the fourth quarter. The quarterback led the Tigers on a 5-play, 72-yard touchdown drive, that cut the Pitt lead to 27-17 with just under eight minutes left to play. However, the Tigers never got the ball back, and Uiagalelei never got another shot at leading the comeback, and finished the day just 12-25 for 125 yards and the two interceptions.
"I was really proud of him for going in and it was a great touchdown drive, unfortunately, we never got the ball back," Swinney said. "That was probably the biggest disappointment. He didn't get a chance to go back out there."
"He did show a lot of moxie, you know, coming back in and putting yourself in that situation. You got the whole world watching it, how you gonna handle it, how you gonna respond? I thought he showed a lot of courage and a lot of guts."
At the end of the day, no matter what happens going forward, Swinney is confident that the adversity Uiagalelei is currently experiencing will make him a better player and that one day he might look back on the benching as a turning point in his career.
"He is growing and developing every single day and all that he's going through right now, it's going to pay off for him," Swinney said. "It'll be a part of his journey and part of his story."
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