Freshman QB Cade Klubnik shines, and creates a lot of buzz, in Clemson football debut

The poise.

The confidence.

The “it” factor.

True freshman quarterback Cade Klubnik took a mere 10 snaps in Clemson football’s Monday night win, but his sharp play on a 66-yard scoring drive sent the internet into a tizzy and raised further questions about where he stands in relation to starter DJ Uiagalelei as the Tigers shoot for the College Football Playoff.

Klubnik, a former five-star recruit from Austin, Texas, made his collegiate debut with the No. 4 Tigers leading Georgia Tech 34-10 in the fourth quarter and looked right at home in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Klubnik rolled to his right and hit wide receiver Will Taylor for a 20-yard third-down conversion on his first career completion. His nine-yard bubble screen to receiver Drew Swinney brought Clemson to Georgia Tech’s 33-yard line.

Then the No. 6 recruit in the class of 2022 delivered an 18-yard laser down the middle to Swinney on a screen-and-go — his best throw of the night — before rolling right and hitting Taylor for a three-yard touchdown on an out route.

That play put Clemson up 41-10 and looked eerily similar to Deshaun Watson’s game-winning toss to Hunter Renfrow against Alabama in the 2016 College Football Playoff national championship game.

“Putting Cade in, we weren’t trying to run the score up,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “We just needed him to play. I needed him to go out there and hand the ball off. I needed him to have to play … he did an awesome job and sparked us.”

Klubnik finished 4-6 for 50 yards on the drive and added a four-yard rush in his only drive of the night. Uiagalelei, who opened the season as Clemson’s starter after throwing for 10 interceptions and nine touchdowns in 2021, finished 19-32 for 209 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions Monday.

Uiagalelei added 19 net yards, one rushing touchdown and one fumble on the ground while leading two key third-quarter scoring drives that boosted Clemson’s lead from 14-10 to 24-10 and kept Georgia Tech at bay.

Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei throws in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Georgia Tech Monday, Sept. 5, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)
Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei throws in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Georgia Tech Monday, Sept. 5, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)

He was one of the first to congratulate Klubnik, his backup, after his fourth-quarter scoring drive and said the true freshman is “going to be a baller” at Clemson.

“He’s just poised out there, man,” Uiagalelei said. “You can tell he’s out there playing with a lot of confidence … I didn’t expect nothing less from him.”

Uiagalelei has been steadfast in his support of Klubnik even as the freshman challenges him for Clemson’s starting quarterback spot, and Swinney said the respect goes both ways.

“They’re both just incredible young men,” Swinney said. “They’re both very humble. They’re both great leaders. They’re both really, really talented. They support each other.”

Swinney didn’t bat an eye in affirming that Uiagalelei remains Clemson’s starter. But expect Klubnik to get more opportunities this Saturday in Clemson’s home opener against in-state FCS program Furman after impressing Monday.

“A very good decision-maker,” Swinney said of Klubnik. “He showed his aptitude, how he can process things … It’s a good situation for us for sure. That’s the most important position in football. We’ve got guys that can go win.”

Clemson Tigers quarterback Cade Klubnik (2) celebrates postgame at the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, Monday, Sept. 5, 2022, in Atlanta. (Vasha Hunt via Abell Images for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game)
Clemson Tigers quarterback Cade Klubnik (2) celebrates postgame at the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, Monday, Sept. 5, 2022, in Atlanta. (Vasha Hunt via Abell Images for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game)

While Clemson is staying true to Uiagalelei, others on Twitter weren’t as patient. Here’s a sampling of various analysts’ reactions to Klubnik’s eye-popping Clemson debut.

Twitter reacts to Cade Klubnik