One quarterback is having a banner season, and the other regressed. It’s just not the proper order for what college football fans would expect from Kenny Pickett and DJ Uiagalelei.
This is a tale of two quarterbacks, one having a career-year and the other unable to gain a rhythm after a great start to his college football career. First up, Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback.
With perseverance, people often overcome their struggles. That’s the case with Pickett. After throwing nine interceptions in each of the past two seasons, as well as just 13 touchdowns in each of the past two seasons, Pickett has become one of college football’s best overall players this season. The following statistics provide an eye-opening perspective regarding Pickett’s transformation.
143 of 205 for 1,934 yards, 21 touchdowns, one interception, and a 69.8% completion rate. The fifth-year senior signal caller never went above a completion percentage of 61.6% during his first four seasons at Pittsburgh. Now, along with his top-notch arm strength that Pickett always displayed, the 6'3", 220 pound signal caller showed that he’s accurate and making fantastic reads.
During the second game of the season at Tennessee, one of the toughest stadiums in college football for a visiting quarterback to perform, he went 24 of 36 for 285 yards, and two touchdowns to lead the Panthers over the Volunteers by the score of 41-34.
That game proved to be Pickett’s arrival on the national stage, and he’s been dominant ever since. His counterpart on Saturday has gone in the opposite direction since his freshman campaign.
Coming into the 2021 season, many believed that Uiagalelei would be the next great Clemson quarterback. During his freshman season, he relieved future No. 1 NFL Draft pick Trevor Lawrence for two games, and he passed for 771 yards and four touchdowns, while completing 69.4% of his passes during those two starts.
Those are incredible numbers for a junior or senior in college, let alone a true freshman thrust into the starting lineup for a top five college football program like Clemson. His 2021 season has been disappointing, however, and it's puzzling. Here are his statistics.
This season Uiagalelei is only 97 of 174 for 974 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions. What happened?
For one, Clemson’s offense does not possess the same weapons. Losing starting running back Travis Etienne to the NFL Draft is one problem, while freshman running back Will Shipley has been lost to a knee injury for the rest of the 2021 season. Shipley had taken over as the Tigers’ No. 1 running back. Uiagalelei is also a different style of quarterback than what the Clemson staff is accustomed to coaching.
Unlike Lawrence, Uiagalelei should not be considered a true dual-threat signal caller either. He possesses tremendous arm strength to go along with his , but likely fits a more traditional pro-style offense better than what Clemson ran prior to his arrival and what it continues to use with him in the lineup now.
Uiagalelei can certainly run over defenders with his massive frame at 6’4”, 250, but he’s not nearly as shifty as prior signal callers like Lawrence. That hurt Clemson’s run-pass option attack. Lastly, Clemson’s wide receivers are not making enough plays.
There seems to be a disconnect between them and Uiagalelei that’s hard to explain. During the 2021 season, Uiagalelei surpassed the 200-yard passing mark just once so far. When Clemson hosted Boston College, he threw for 207 yards. Beyond a pedestrian total to begin with, there are two other problems. Uiagalelei’s passing percentage in that game ended up at 46.4% and he did not throw for a touchdown.
Clemson was fortunate to win the game against Boston College, and now they face a Pittsburgh team on the road with a quarterback that’s playing as well as any other signal caller in all of college football.
Can Uiagalelei and his offensive unit get back on track against Pittsburgh? Hard to say but he’s not getting it done so far in 2021. Going up against the potent offense of Pittsburgh with Pickett at the helm will certainly present a great challenge for Uiagalelei and his Clemson teammates.
The 3:30 EST game will be one of the weekend’s best, and it’s going to feature two signal callers that have gone in opposite directions from their original expectations.
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