As luck would have it, the Clemson Tigers made the necessary change at quarterback just in time to face Tennessee football in the Orange Bowl. Well, to be fair, the change was made the previous game.
Cade Klubnik took over for D.J. Uiagalelei in the first half of the ACC Championship game with Clemson trailing the North Carolina Tar Heels 7-0. He led them to a 39-10 win.
In the process, Klubnik completed 20-of-24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 30 yards and a score. Now, Tennessee football has to prepare for a quarterback who has injected new life into the program.
“I can see why he’s there and see why those guys are so high on him,” Tennessee football defensive coordinator Tim Banks said on Klubnki Tuesday. “We’ll have our hands full, but we’ve obviously played a ton of talented quarterbacks in this league, and he’s just the next guy up.”
Uiagalelei completed 229 of 369 passes on the year (62.1 percent) for 2,521 yards (6.8 yards per attempt), 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also rushed for 545 yards and seven touchdowns.
A true freshman, Klubnik brings a lot more excitement to the program. Banks said he and Uiagalelei actually appear to be similar in a lot of the ways they play.
“When he was in there, whether it was the North Carolina game or some of the other games he got in late, it’s very similar particularly in the throw game and what they’ve asked him to do,” he said. “He’s connected on a bunch of deep balls. They will run him.”
Switching quarterbacks isn’t new for Dabo Swinney. He used both Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson in 2014, and he went from Kelly Bryant early in 2018 to then Trevor Lawrence.
All the hype suggests switching to Klubnik is a similar upgrade. However, since his action has been in all either mop-up duty or the majority of one game, Banks noted that it’s still a small sample size.
“You just don’t know, but I think he’s capable of doing the same thing that (Uiagalelei) did,” he said. “It’s just a matter of if they decide to use him that way.”
Part of that sample size is obviously a championship setting, so it carries more value than other sample sizes. It also will make him more excited to play the bowl game, as he has something to prove, similar to Joe Milton III with Tennessee football.
Still, since Milton has started three games for the Vols and played two full games plus his time with the Michigan Wolverines, Clemson has more to prepare for. Getting ready for Klubnik can be tricky.
“We went back and watched his high school film,” Banks said. “He’s a tremendous athlete, strong arm. He’s talented.”