Just three years ago, DJ Uiagalelei filled in for Trevor Lawrence against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and shined. Uiagalelei completed 29 of his 44 passes for 439 passing yards and tallied three touchdowns on the day, breaking the Clemson Tigers’ freshman passing record.
A former five-star quarterback recruit in the class of 2020, many expected Uiagalelei to follow in the footsteps of recent successful quarterbacks at Clemson like Deshaun Watson and Lawrence. However, Uiagalelei is spending his 2023 season suiting up for the Oregon State Beavers, nearly 3,000 miles from Clemson. What happened in between then and now for Uiagalelei?
DJ Uiagalelei Was in Search of a Fresh Start
Uiagalelei stepped in at quarterback for Clemson right after Lawrence was selected first overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. After some excellent performances as a freshman, expectations for Uiagalelei were fairly high. Yet, the Clemson offense struggled to return to form, coming off stagnant and predictable. Uiagalelei only threw nine touchdowns in that 2021 season.
Clemson didn’t change anything regarding the offense following that season, something that reportedly frustrated Uiagalelei. They then added another highly-ranked quarterback in Cade Klubnik, putting more and more pressure on Uiagalelei.
To his credit, Uiagalelei’s numbers improved in 2022, going from nine to 22 touchdowns, and his completion percentage jumped nearly seven points between the two seasons.
However, the Clemson offense still faced the same predictable issues and often sputtered out. Uiagalelei spent most of the season looking over his shoulder at Klubnik, who Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney would put in frequently to “provide a spark.”
Uiagalelei put his name in the transfer portal in search of an offense that would play to his strengths and help him grow in time for his professional career.
In an article from The Athletic, Uiagalelei cited a fresh start and a new offense as a significant reason for transferring from Clemson:
“I didn’t want to do what I was doing at Clemson. I didn’t really like what we did there scheme-wise. I didn’t think we did very much. I thought it was very basic. It didn’t help me out as a quarterback and play to my strengths. I wanted to go somewhere that would play to my strengths and go somewhere that would develop me for the NFL. Play-action, work under center, throw the ball deep.”
At Oregon State, Uiagalelei’s new offense resembles more of an NFL-style scheme than what he played in at Clemson. The play-action passes from under center, outside zone, and different route concepts look pretty similar to what we’ve seen from many of the Kyle Shanahan trees offensively in the league.
Uiagalelei believes the Beavers’ offense will help prepare him for life as an NFL quarterback and increase his NFL Draft stock. So far this season, Uiagalelei has thrown for 828 yards with seven touchdowns to three interceptions while adding five more touchdowns on the ground.
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