CLEMSON, S.C. – DJ Uiagalelei tapped backup Cade Klubnik on the helmet and gave him a final piece of advice before the freshman headed to the field with No. 5 Clemson down 21-10 in the third quarter.
“You're ready for this,” Uiagalelei said.
Clemson's starter was right. Klubnik, the five-star newcomer, led the fifth-ranked Tigers to two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 27-21 win over No. 14 Syracuse on Saturday.
Will Shipley scored twice on the ground, including the go-ahead 50-yard TD run with less than 12 minutes to go. Shipley also had a career-high 172 yards rushing.
Clemson (8-0, 6-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) r allied from 14-points down in the first half for its 14th straight win overall, an ACC-record setting 38th straight home victory, and maintained control of the ACC Atlantic Division as the league's last unbeaten.
And it likely wouldn't have happened without Klubnik's steady hand in the final 20 minutes.
Uiagalelei had his worst game of the season with two interceptions — he had two in the first seven games — and a fumble that Syracuse (6-1, 3-1) returned for a 90-yard scoop and score as the Tigers fell behind 21-7.
Klubnik's spark was immediate. He led a 15-play, 80-yard drive finished by Phil Mafah's 1-yard bull rush.
After a Syracuse punt, Klubnik opened the next series with an 11-yard run before Shipley's game winner to go up 22-21 that sent him into the stands with his own Lambeau Leap. The Tigers went for two as Klubnik escaped a defender in the backfield, rolled right and found Joseph Ngata for the conversion.
Klubnik punched the air and Death Valley erupted in a frenzy.
“Just excited to get my moment,” Klubnik said. “It was awesome — such a great environment today.”
Will there be more ahead this year? Perhaps not.
“As far as DJ, DJ's our starter, DJ's our leader,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Nothing's changed there.”
Klubnik's chance came because the Orange pressured Uiagalelei into mistakes. Safety Ja'Had Carter had Syracuse's first interception, then picked up the loose ball Uiagalelei dropped and ran uncontested for a score.
When Uiagalelei threw his second pick on an off-target pass, Swinney made the change.
Uiagalelei understood, telling offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter he just wanted to win.
“It was a bad day,” Uiagalelei said. “There were mistakes I made, things I wish I had back.”
Clemson held Syracuse to 119 yards and no points the final two quarters. Shrader took Syracuse to the Clemson 30 with 32 seconds left but was picked off by safety R.J. Mickens on his fnal throw.
Shrader passed for a touchdown and rushed for another. He finished 18 of 26 passing for 167 yards.
“This is the first time we've tasted defeat and I want the taste out of my mouth and be back on the right side of it,” Syracuse coach Dino Babers said.
Klubnik's performance was eerily similar to Clemson's last close call at home against Syracuse in 2018 when Chase Brice — he of the Appalachian State Hail Mary win this season — came in for injured starter Trevor Lawrence and led a 94-yard fourth-quarter scoring drive in the final minute for a 27-23 win.
Syracuse: It was certainly a tale of two halves for the Orange, who looked unstoppable and on a mission in the first 30 minutes before caving to the Tigers. Syracuse also made its share of mistakes with several costly penalties down the stretch contributing to Clemson's win.
Clemson: Quarterback controversy? Don't be so certain. Fans were hopeful Klubnik would take over for Uiagalelei when the season began after he struggled at times in 2021. While Klubnik was essential to beating Syracuse, Clemson is still Uiagalelei's team going forward.
Expect Clemson to hold steady, although it has lost ground in the rankings twice before this season after wins. Syracuse will likely slip a few spots, but should remain in the Top 25.
Clemson linebacker Barrett Carter, third on the team with 33 tackles, missed the game due to a concussion. He's the latest starter to miss time this season, including defensive linemen Xavier Thomas, Bryan Bresee and Tyler Davis. For Syracuse, top cornerback Garrett Williams did not play after getting hurt against North Carolina State last week. Williams is third on Syracuse with 32 tackles.
Syracuse returns to the Dome to play Notre Dame on Saturday.
Clemson has the week off before heading to Notre Dame on Nov. 5.
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