Making Sense of DJ Uiagalelei’s Criticism of Clemson Offense

Former Clemson Tigers quarterback DJ Uiagalelei said in an interview on that he wanted out of a system run by Brandon Streeter, who was fired as the offensive coordinator in January, a month after Uiagalelei entered the NCAA transfer portal. 

The California native who played three seasons at Clemson before leaving for Oregon State said this week that the Tigers “didn’t do much” schematically. And called the offense “very basic.”

Is any of that out of line? Weren’t those many of the same criticisms of Clemson’s offense lobbed by the fan base and the media during the last two years?

“It didn’t help me out as a quarterback and play to my strengths,” Uiagalelei said. “I wanted to go somewhere that would play to my strengths and go somewhere that would develop me for the NFL. Play-action, work under center, throw the ball deep.”

The Tigers went from one of the most prolific attacks in college football under Trevor Lawrence to below average in 2021 and barely above average in 2022. 

Clemson missed the College Football Playoff both seasons, and people around Tiger Town were pissed. They wanted change. Some demanded it. 

Clemson’s Dabo Swinney obliged, not because of outside criticism, but because the head coach himself thought the program needed a new voice and system. It’s why he fired Streeter hours before hiring former TCU offensive coordinator Garrett Riley, one of the most sought-after names in the country. 

“We’ve been elite throwing and catching around here for a long time and the last two years, we haven’t been what we need to be,” Swinney said. “I think (Riley) can help us do that without sacrificing the run game.”

So why was Uiagalelei, a QB who represented the Tigers well off the field, so critical? 

For starters, he isn’t saying anything that hasn’t already been said. It’s really not that controversial. But he’s also not accepting blame, at least in the article that was published. It doesn’t mean he didn’t in the interview. It doesn’t mean he did. Something else to keep in mind. 

Facts, though, are facts. He struggled, completing just 55.6% of his passes in 2021 and 61.9% in 2022. He averaged under 7 yards per pass attempt each of those seasons as a starter and threw a combined 31 touchdowns to 17 interceptions.  He averaged under 200 yards per game both years.

Uiagalelei, though, didn’t have some of the receiver talent Clemson’s possessed in the past, and his 2021 offensive line was brutal at times and ravaged by injuries.

Secondly, Uiagalelei, who fell on the sword many times in postgame interviews even when a poor offensive performance wasn’t entirely his fault, is trying to rebuild his image. 

He’s fighting for a starting job at Oregon State. He’s trying to endear himself to a new fan base, and hopefully reignite his NFL draft stock at some point in his college career. 

Passing the buck isn’t always well received, but it’s sometimes necessary. 

Does Uiagalelei deserve some blame for Clemson’s struggles over the last two years? Absolutely. He wasn’t good enough at times, scheme or not. 

But did he play in an offense that suited him or did he have ideal weapons around him? Not really on both accounts. 

Yes, the coaches stood up for him at every turn. He then says they didn’t trust him at times last season.

“You can feel that too as a player,” Uiagalelei said. “You know sometimes how they call plays, like calling plays scared, timid. Not opening it up 100 percent because they don’t trust the quarterback. I felt that definitely at times.” 

He may be right, and there were plenty of instances where neither the ones calling the plays nor the ones executing them were on the same page. 

Uiagalelei was benched for freshman Cade Klubnik, the starter for 2023, during the ACC Championship Game. The writing was on the wall after the junior went 2-for-5 passing for 10 yards on the first two drives. 

Uiagalelei needed a fresh start. Clemson needed a fresh start. Both got it. The criticized offensive system is no longer in place. 

It’s easy to see why some fans would be offended by the former quarterback’s criticism or lack of perceived self-awareness. 

It’s also not hard to see what he’s trying to accomplish as the former 5-star prospect aims to change everything everyone has said about him the last two years.

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