CLEMSON, S.C. — DJ Uiagalelei was happy he and the rest of the Clemson offense could help out their defense this past Saturday in Winston-Salem, N.C. But do not think the fifth-ranked Tigers are satisfied with their offensive performance. They are far from it.
Nonetheless, the offense did bail out its defense for a change.
Uiagalelei threw for 371 yards and five touchdowns, while his young receivers grew up in front of a nationally televised audience. It all added up to a 51-45 double overtime victory over No. 21 Wake Forest at Truist Field.
“I feel like, as an offense, every time we step on the field, we get better and better and better,” Uiagalelei said. “I am excited to see what we can do next week. I am excited for the preparation for NC State. I am excited for us to get better and just learn from our mistakes and learn from what we did great today and just keep building.”
Clemson’s offense did all of those things against the Demon Deacons. After coming out hot with touchdowns on each of its first two possessions, the Tigers cooled off before scoring on seven of their last nine.
The Tigers (4-0, 2-0 ACC) scored on each of its last five possessions, four of which were touchdowns.
Uiagalelei did his part in helping the cause. He threw two touchdown passes to tight end Davis Allen, including a back-shoulder fade from 21 yards out in the second overtime for what turned out to be the game-winning score. He also threw scoring passes to tight end Jake Briningstool from 12 yards away, 41 yards to wide receiver Brannon Spector and 21 yards to wide receiver Beaux Collins.
In all, Uiagalelei completed 26 of 41 passes with no interceptions. The junior was in complete control from start to finish.
“That is what I saw all summer, all camp. As I said going into the Georgia Tech game, I just need to see him do it under the lights,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “I needed to see how he was going to be when he makes a terrible throw, makes a bad decision, turns it over. Last year, it kind of led to more bad.
“How is he going to handle that this year? He hit a little sluggish start in the first half of the Georgia Tech game, and then, man, he pushed through it. He got better. He got better in the Furman game. He got better in the La. Tech game, and it is just awesome.”
For a second straight week, Uiagalelei was a factor in the running game, as well. After rushing for 62 yards against Louisiana Tech, he ran for 52 yards against the Demon Deacons.
“He is a big strong dude. He is so confident running the ball now,” Swinney said. “He looks like Tajh [Boyd] out there, doesn’t he? He is not Trevor [Lawrence] or Deshaun [Watson] running, but he looks a lot like Tajh, as far as that toughness, that willingness, that fight with the ball in his hand to go get the first down and to extend plays. He threw a (two-point conversion) with a couple of guys hanging on him.”
But it was not all Uiagalelei. Running back Will Shipley ran for 104 yards and scored a touchdown on 20 carries, while nine different players caught at least one pass. Allen, Collins, Joseph Ngata and freshman Antonio Williams made at least one contested catch.
Then there was the offense line. They held up for most of the afternoon, giving Uiagalelei enough time to allow him to go through his progressions, good enough to convert on 16 of 23 third downs.
The 16 third downs were a Clemson record for a single game.
“The offensive line, they played amazing,” Uiagalelei said. “I think we had one sack, but that was on me. But the offensive line played amazing today. There were countless times when I was in the backfield and just standing back there.
“The first touchdown to Jake, I do not know how long it took. I was just back there chilling in the back field making a sandwich.”
Uiagalelei and the offense will try to keep building as it takes on No. 10 NC State and its nationally ranked defense this coming Saturday. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium in Clemson.
—photo courtesy of Clemson Athletic Communications