Saturday afternoon will feature a quarterback matchup that people have been talking about for weeks…
…Except not for the reasons we all expected…
NC State’s Devin Leary and Clemson’s DJ Uiagalelei (gonna go with DJU from here on out), haven’t had the best of starts this seasons. With solid defensive play and comparable running games, this matchup could simply come down to one thing; Which QB will actually step up?
It’s crazy seeing the quarterbacks that have ran down that hill after touching the rock in Clemson. You could easily argue in the last decade, Clemson has had their top-3 best QBs ever in Trevor Lawrence, Deshaun Watson and Tajh Boyd. DJU coming out of high school, was a shoo-in to continue that upward trend.
Top-10 recruit overall, with the number one spot for QBs, DJU casually went for 96 touchdowns over his last two seasons of high school. He has a cannon arm, to the point that some thought he had legitimate MLB potential. In relief of Lawrence last year, he showed glimpse of next level potential. Even though he ended up going 1-1 (the loss in OT at ND), he put up close to 1,000 yards with five touchdowns, no interceptions and a 146.4 rating.
This year, hasn’t been so kind to DJU.
One touchdown and two interceptions, with a drop in QB rating by over 40 points. Even on quick out routes or screen passes, the accuracy has been beyond suspect. In fact, if runningback Will Shipley didn’t show up against Georgia Tech, Clemson might be walking into Carter-Finley 1-2 and unranked.
DJU has the tools and the size to not only take over college football, but play on at the next level. You can see him second guessing, which leads to him short arming throws. Even when he has taken down the ball to run, it’s been for minimal gains. His mind hasn’t caught up to his body.
That being said, he 100000% will have a monstrous game in the very near future. This definitely feels like a “get the monkey off my back” scenario. One solid game will be followed by another. Just like Leary, the pressure has been set high. He’s following Watson and Lawrence, both absolute generational talents. To think that he would show up in Death Valley and just light the world on fire, is harsh to say the least.
If you look at specific games from his short career, you can see the outstanding potential (loaded statement, right?). His Pitt game last year was awesome, going for 336 yards with four touchdowns. Most recently, USF and Furman (I know, I know), he looked calm and collected pushing nearly 500 yards of passing and a 5-1 TD-INT ratio.
But can Leary put it together in a big game?
Over his last 7 games, he’s lost twice; at a ruckus Virginia Tech and at the Cowbell Thunderdome that is Miss State. While VT game showed he could play, it was only 16 attempts. The Miss State game is where I’m more troubled.
Similar to DJU, there have been moments of multiple forced passes, misreads and over-shots on throws. Unlike DJU, Leary is struggling with accuracy on the deep ball, more than his short game (I’d rather this be the problem, by the way…If my QB can’t hit a WR standing six yards away, it’s red flag city). When he’s at his best is when he’s focused, working through his progressions before finding his guy.
The problem he’ll face on Saturday isn’t noise related, it’s actual defensive pressure. This Clemson defense is the only team in the country with no touchdowns against. They are relentless when attacking ball carriers. If Leary is sacked, it won’t be solo, it will be a dogpile.
To those that say “Give Finley a shot”, enough. Similar to DJU and the pressures of being Cleamon’s QB is Leary being expected to be the State savior. A reminder that his games as a starter are limited and that he really has improved in multiple areas. Leary is our best shot at beating Clemson and making a run at the ACC Title Game, PERIOD. Hopefully, Doeren and Beck will allow for the offense to be versatile in looks, rather than stale and uninspiring.
So What Now?
Both Doeren and Dabo have all the confidence in the world in their QBs. Both will be seeing pressure and opposing LBs and secondaries that can fly. The difference will be, how loud WPN can get and which field general can find their groove first. Without a doubt, there is going to be attempts to get the ground game going, but the air battle is who ultimately wins the game.
DJU has the better skillset. Leary has the better backfield support (we didn’t get Shipley, let’s move on already). Both have yet to play to their potential.
This matchup is the most intriguing, and ironically, the matchup that could hold this game back from being great.
I hope we are talking about Leary statue come 7pm Saturday, while national media wonders if DJU can pull it together for Boston College. Boy, do I hope.