CHARLOTTE — Following No. 8 Clemson’s dominating 39-10 victory over No. 23 North Carolina Saturday night in the ACC Championship Game, Dabo Swinney said the plan all along was to bring Cade Klubnik into the game on the third series.
Klubnik responded by completing his first 10 passes of the night, while leading the Tigers to a seventh league championship in the last eight years. The true freshman finished the night completing 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards, while running for another. He also added a touchdown pass to tight end Davis Allen and ran for another score.
In the process, he became the first true freshman quarterback to take home MVP honors in the ACC Championship Game.
“We made the decision [last] Sunday,” Swinney said. “I called Cade last Sunday and kind of told him what we were going to do. It’s kind of one of those things that it could have happened earlier, and guys got to earn it.”
Klubnik earned it in the ACC Championship Game and now he will be Clemson’s starter when the Tigers play in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30 in Coral Gables, Fla. Clemson (11-2) earned a spot in the Orange Bowl with its win over the Tar Heels.
“It was a great night, and again, a glimpse of our future and what it looks like at Clemson,” Swinney said. “I’m really happy for him, and yeah, he definitely has earned his opportunity to go start. We’ve got a few weeks here to get ready to play for whoever we play in the Orange Bowl, and excited to see him continue to build on it, and again, have a great finish and build some momentum going into next year.”
Klubnik took his opportunity on Clemson’s third drive and led the Tigers on a nine-play, 71-yard drive. In the drive he hit receiver Antonio Williams for 16 and 22 yards and then eventually capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown pass to tight end Davis Allen.
“I think I had a little bit of a different mindset today,” Klubnik said. “I’m not exactly sure what it was, but I was pretty pumped. I just came ready to play free and just trust in God’s time with everything. I think that’s been what I’ve learned most over the past six months really, is just trusting God’s time with it and just having peace in that and having joy in that, knowing that I didn’t know how the game was going to go. I really didn’t.
“But I knew just that God was in control of the whole thing from the very start, from the first snap to now, and it’s been awesome just to see what he’s been doing. Just to be able to honor him through that has been awesome.”
Klubnik was so excited after the Tigers’ first touchdown drive, he went over to his offensive teammates on the sideline and told them they were just getting started. From there, Clemson scored on each of its first four drives with Klubnik at quarterback.
“I think I just went and talked to the offensive linemen and the receivers like, man, this is just the start. Like let’s keep on rolling,” he said. “We had a great first drive, and I really just tried to encourage them, like don’t be satisfied with this, don’t be satisfied with one good drive. Let’s go get five or six more. That was my kind of encouragement to them was just, we’re just getting started.”