Cade Klubnik lifts Clemson to ACC title; DJ Uiagalelei benched early

CHARLOTTE, NC — Clemson Tigers will move forward with quarterback Cade Klubnik after coming off the bench and leading Clemson to a 39-10 win over North Carolina in Saturday’s ACC Championship game, the seventh conference title in eight years for the Tigers.

DJ Uiagalelei launched the first two drives and fought by going 2-of-5 for 10 yards. His two drives ended in three-and-outs. Klubnik then came in and led a scoring drive and played the rest of the game, playing 20 of 24 for 309 total yards and two total touchdowns.

After that, coach Dabo Swinney said the plan for the game was that Klubnik would definitely get to the third series. Once Klubnik started moving the ball around the field, there was no turning back.

Swinney said Klubnik will start the Orange Bowl on December 30.

“Things have to happen the way they’re supposed to happen and tonight it went that way and Cade was ready,” he said. “You had a chance to see what he can do. He played to the rhythm, the guys played for him. He’s really, really fast. He can really play with his legs. It was a great night and a look at our future and what it looks like at Clemson.”

Swinney said repeatedly in the week before the ACC championship game that Uiagalelei would start against the Tar Heels, despite struggling with a 31-30 loss to South Carolina to end the regular season, and shifted the blame away from Uiagalelei at the loss, pointing to turnovers and drops in receivers as contributing factors.

Despite Uiagalelei fighting the Gamecocks, Swinney chose not to use Klubnik in that game. Given what happened to the teams placed ahead of them, it turns out that loss could have cost Clemson a berth in the College Football Playoffs.

When asked if he regrets not playing Klubnik against South Carolina, Swinney again deflected the blame from Uiagalelei.

“I had a lot of regrets about the South Carolina game, but not really,” Swinney said. “DJ is not the reason we lost. But looking back is always 2020. There are a lot of things I wish we could have done again, like fourth and one and not fumbling the ball. A lot of things I wish we’d had a chance to over but you don’t get a chance to. It’s all about what’s next for us.

Klubnik was named MVP of the game for his performance on Saturday night. When asked about his favorite moment afterwards, Swinney revealed that the back pass Klubnik caught on Phil Mafah’s second shot on goal was a play Klubnik had asked her to play.

“I think I had a slightly different mindset today,” said Klubnik. “I’m not exactly sure what it was. I was just willing to play freely and trust God’s time with everything. I didn’t know how the game would go. I really didn’t know. But I just knew that God was in control of the whole thing from the start.”

Swinney reiterated that they thought there might be times during the season when Klubnik would be ready, but that the timing didn’t seem right.

After Saturday’s performance and after Klubnik had already named the starter for Clemson’s next game, Uiagalelele’s future with the team is in doubt.

“I’m just worrying about the ACC and enjoying it, and… I don’t know,” Uiagalelei said.

He added he plans to treat the next month “like I’ve always done. I do my best and go out and play football.”

“We were hoping he would play well,” Swinney said of Uiagalelei. “But he didn’t have a great streak and we stuck to the plan and the rest is history. Credit has to be given to Cade for that. He came in and took it.

“I am sure that there will be many discussions in the future. Obviously tonight didn’t turn out the way he would like, but he has a bright, bright future ahead of him as a footballer.”

ESPN’s David M. Hale contributed to this report. Cade Klubnik lifts Clemson to ACC title; DJ Uiagalelei benched early

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