Clemson's Cade Klubnik recalls last talk with D.J. Uiagalelei before 1st start in Orange Bowl

DANIA BEACH − Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik is ready to "flip the switch" as the Tigers' new starter ahead of playing Tennessee in the Orange Bowl on Friday.

It's been a busy December for Clemson football. Before making the trek to South Florida, there was National Signing Day, a trip to the amusement park, planning a holiday proposal for NFL Draft-bound tight end Davis Allen's longtime girlfriend and D.J. Uiagalelei's transfer to Oregon State.

Cade Klubnik
Cade Klubnik

Billed at the top of the Tigers' marquee of excitement is the true freshman quarterback's true first start.

An Atlantic Coast Conference championship victory over North Carolina suggested the beginning of the Klubnik era, but Clemson coach Dabo Swinney still trusted Uiagelelei for the first possession of the game before the five-star from Westlake High in Austin, Texas took over to clinch the Orange Bowl for the Tigers.

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The offense is officially in Klubnik's hands after having to wait to enter games against Syracuse and Notre Dame until too much damage had been done. Although his former five-star predecessor completed just 10 of 34 attempts over his final two games, Klubnik said he learned a lot from Uiagalelei and looked to him for advice since first taking the field against Georgia Tech in September.

"I think I saw it coming a little bit just because of the potential that he has and the amazing quarterback that he is," Klubnik said.

Saying their relationship wasn't "awkward at all," Klubnik recalled his last conversation with Uiagalelei after the three-year veteran's Christmas Eve announcement that he would be leaving for the Pac-12.

"He said to just go be me and don't be anything different," Klubnik said of Uiagelelei, later adding that the two haven't communicated since the Tigers left for Miami.

Being Cade Klubnik against UNC meant completing 20 of 24 attempts (83.3 percent), 297 yards and a touchdown.

"We thanked each other for everything we've been to each other," Klubnik said. "He's excited for me and I was excited for him. I let him know I was praying for him."

Offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter saw Klubnik and Uiaglelei's relationship only grow "stronger" in the last few weeks.

"D.J. was a big part of our success and a big part of why we're here today," Streeter said. "Cade and him just grew together and did a great job of developing a relationship."

Klubnik already has felt Uiaglelei's absence.

"I really enjoy our relationship and I think that comes as a surprise to a lot of people that we're super close," Klubnik said. "When you're going out there the first practice with him not there, it was definitely hard.

"At Clemson, we're all tight. We're like brothers so you hate to see them leave − that goes with everybody that went on to have opportunities."

Future appears bright for Clemson football

Klubnik took some time to think about what message he wanted to send with his first four, full quarters as the starter.

"I think it'll just set up that we have a really good team next year. We're going to return a bunch on offense and we're going to return a bunch on defense," Clubnik said. "I think this game is just going to loop us into the 2023 season."

Regardless of Tigers entering the transfer portal or the NFL, Klubnik said he's happy to see this season's lessons in patience pay off. His main focus on Friday and every start to come will be to "be able to enjoy it all through whatever I'm going through."

"I love the game," he said. "When I get out there and play, another switch just kind of happens that I don't really have any control over. Another part of me comes out."

Swinney and Streeter have compared Klubnik's style of play to former Clemson star Deshaun Watson, with Klubnik proclaiming himself a "mobile quarterback" versus a textbook dual-threat.

"When you've got a guy that can run and throw, it makes you right," Streeter said. The first-year OC already is a shade in the right direction, flipping Clemson's offense from being ranked 102nd in third-down conversion rate and 103rd in the red zone to the Top 10 of both categories.

In nine appearances, Klubnik has averaged 9.8 yards per carry. Watson averaged a career-best 5.4 yards per carry his sophomore season at Clemson.

"He can get out of a jam. He can scramble and that's important when you're playing that position because when a play breaks down, you need a guy who can go and create," Streeter said.

Comparisons between Klubnik and Trevor Lawrence

As a leader in the locker room, Streeter says Klubnik resembles Trevor Lawrence, the last true freshman to bring Clemson a national championship and only the second quarterback to accomplish the feat in the history of college football.

Even with a long line of big cleats to fill, Klubnik said his coaches have done a "great job" preparing him and the team. While there haven't been any conversations "directly" according to the young quarterback, Streeter confirmed that the offense may look a little different moving forward.

"I'm so thankful for my teammates and the way they've had my back throughout this whole thing," Klubnik said, excited for the opportunity to turn the page on Clemson's offense in the Orange Bowl.

"Our guys rally around him and he makes everybody better around him. It's fun to watch as a young guy being able to do that," Streeter said.

"There's definitely things that Cade does differently than what D.J. did. We'll be able to do a few different things here and there still within the realm of our offense, but just that will cater to Cade and allow him to use his feet a little bit more and be successful in those areas."

Orange Bowl

Clemson (11-2) vs. Tennessee (10-2)

Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens

Friday, 8 p.m., ESPN

Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik (2) passes near Miami defensive lineman Myjalik Kelly (32) during the fourth quarter at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022.
Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik (2) passes near Miami defensive lineman Myjalik Kelly (32) during the fourth quarter at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022.

This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik replaces D.J. Uiagalelei in Orange Bowl