Clemson’s QB situation has changed quite a bit. Here’s what to expect down the stretch

·4 min read

Clemson backup quarterback Taisun Phommachanh has seen his playing time tick upward the past two games.

Against Syracuse two weeks ago, he played one snap before extending his work to two drives against Pitt over the weekend. Phommachanh began his time Saturday picking up back-to-back first downs during a drive that ended with a field goal. When starting quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei got back in two series later, however, he scored a touchdown.

Although neither Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney nor offensive coordinator Tony Elliott have explicitly confirmed Uiagalelei will remain the starting quarterback this Saturday against Florida State, the implication is there won’t be any changes to QB1.

“Don’t write the young man off,” Elliott said of Uiagalelei. “Don’t write him off. Let’s let him be D.J. Let’s stand by him through the adversity and watch him grow because I believe, just as everyone in this program believes, that you’re going to see what he’s capable of.”

The initial idea of not publicly naming a starting signal caller this week isn’t to shake Uiagalelei’s confidence, but to be an opportunity to take some pressure off him, Elliott explained. The Tigers took a similar approach with freshman offensive lineman Marcus Tate this season. He played in the season opener against Georgia, then was rotated in as a reserve over the next five games to help alleviate some of the pressure and growing pains.

“Now you’re starting to see him. He played 40-something snaps and did a much better job this past week,” Elliott said of Tate, who was an early enrollee. “That’s the perspective that we’ll be coming from. That’ll be our communication and I think that he’ll manage that the right way.”

When asked what Uiagalelei has to do to keep the starting job, Elliott cited the need to continue to lead, make the right decisions and do the little things right. Where the Southern California native sometimes falters, however, is not trusting his protection or his receivers to make plays. At the same time, the Tigers’ pass catchers have to make plays to help build that trust.

“Then there was one … I think it was the last drive where he flushed when he didn’t need to, got spooked there,” Elliott said. “We just gotta continue to coach him through it, try to put him in as many situations in practice as we can. And trust me, he’s getting tested with those situations, and he just has to trust the process.”

Clemson (4-3) is struggling to score 20 points a game. Uiagalelei, meanwhile, has gone from preseason Heisman hopeful to 1,102 yards passing across seven games to go with four touchdowns, five interceptions and a 55% completion rate.

The fact that Phommachanh saw more time on the field against Pitt caused some to wonder how much he’ll play moving forward. That question was further amplified by the timing of his entry into the game. Uiagalelei had just thrown a pick-six on a shovel pass on the opening drive of the second half, making it a two-score game.

Elliott on Monday noted the Tigers have created packages for Phommachanh, who had only played in seven games prior to this season, and will continue to use them “depending upon how it all shakes out by the end of the week,” the Tigers’ offensive coordinator clarified. As far as the redshirt sophomore’s performance on Saturday, Elliott was pleased with Phommachanh’s decision-making when it came to the run-pass option, which he felt gave the offensive unit more confidence.

“The decision there was he could possibly bring us a little spark, and he did,” Elliott said. “You saw what he was able to do. He was able to pull the ball down, extend some plays. I thought he did a good job of managing the system, which is something we needed to see.”

Phommachanh went 3-for-3 passing to start but missed the next four throws, finishing with 23 yards in the air while tallying 15 yards on two carries. Uiagalelei completed 12-of-25 passes with two interceptions for 128 yards to go along with 50 yards on four totes and a touchdown. Following his six-yard score, Clemson never got the ball back with Pitt using up all of the game’s final seven minutes and 56 seconds.

Swinney called the strategic move frustrating because the Tigers weren’t able to see what Uiagalelei could do late in the game.

“There’s some really, really good things that you’re seeing,” Elliott said of Uiagalelei. “He’s trusting, for the most part, his development process. He’s trusting it. We’ve just got to continue to work day-in and day-out, and the finished product is going to be something special.”

Clemson FSU game this week

Who: Clemson (4-3, 3-2 ACC) vs. Florida State (3-4, 2-3)

Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson

When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday

TV: ESPN

Line: Clemson by 9.5

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