With Cade Klubnik, Clemson Tigers Get Noticeable Mentality Change

Dabo Swinney wasn’t taking a shot at anyone when he said last week that Cade Klubnik has the mentality it takes to overcome a mistake. 

The Clemson head coach even compared his sophomore quarterback to former Tiger and Cleveland Browns starter Deshaun Watson. 

“Deshaun would throw an interception in a heartbeat right?” Swinney asked. “But nobody panicked because we were going to score 40.  You just have that same feel with Cade.”

Swinney said the trait to get past a roadblock, focus on the next play and bounce back with a big play is not something he’s developed just because Klubnik is now in the role of starting quarterback after serving as the backup last fall. 

“I think that’s how he’s wired,” Swinney said. “It’s in his natural DNA. That’s just who he is. He’s just a glass-half-full kind of guy all the time.”

Swinney noted that Klubnik “loves ball,” and shows it by how he practices and prepares.

Again, that’s not a shot at D.J. Uiagalelei, the quarterback who led Clemson the previous two seasons and transferred to Oregon State in the offseason after Klubnik took over the reins in the ACC Championship Game last year. 

Uiagalelei got Clemson back-to-back 10-win seasons, but he didn’t get the Tigers into the College Football Playoff.

But it does show a difference, and maybe confidence, in Klubnik’s mentality. It wasn’t that Uiagalelei didn’t try, but his discernible lack of urgency bothered people. No matter how much he was backed by his coaches and teammates, it never really felt like Uiagalelei’s performance on the field and leadership were the right match for the Tigers. 

That may be water under the bridge for the players, but this August, the vibe has certainly changed. Klubnik, who threw for 697 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions last year, has put in the work to gain his teammates’ trust, and there’s a sense of comfortability that wasn’t there. Maybe it’s less hope of it working out and more belief that it will. 

Maybe it’s that mistakes, which will certainly come from a quarterback of Klubnik’s experience level, will be met with more optimism than “here we go again.” 

“(Klubnik’s) got that energy that lifts everybody,” Swinney said. “He’s the key to us. If he stays healthy, we have a chance to be a good football team.” 

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