Dabo calls out Uiagalelei's critics as QB drives win

by Ricardo Gutierrez - Amid calls for a change at quarterback, DJ Uiagalelei delivered Clemson to a 51-45 comeback win over Wake Forest on Saturday, throwing for 371 yards and 5 touchdowns. And coach Dabo Swinney kept all the receipts from the critics who doubted his QB.

6:18 PM ET David M. HaleESPN Staff Writer Close ACC reporter. Joined ESPN in 2012. Graduate of the University of Delaware. WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Clemson seems to have solved its quarterback problems, and Dabo Swinney kept receipts from all the critics who thought DJ Uiagalelei was cooked after last season's struggles. Uiagalelei delivered the No. 5 Tigers a dramatic 51-45 come-from-behind double-overtime win over No. 21 Wake Forest on Saturday, throwing for 371 yards and five touchdowns in the effort. "After today, I don't think you can question the kid," Swinney said. "He's locked in. He's blocked out all the noise. ... He's made of the right stuff. The challenges he's had, the adversity he's been through, it's made him better." Uiagalelei was a five-star recruit in 2020, and when forced into the starting job for a sidelined Trevor Lawrence that season, he engineered a dramatic win over Boston College and threw for more than 400 yards against Notre Dame . Expectations were high entering 2021, but Uiagalelei struggled badly. For the season, he threw just nine touchdown passes -- a number he's already exceeded in 2022. Still, Swinney stuck with his QB entering this season, despite the presence of another recruiting star in freshman Cade Klubnik . After Klubnik engineered an impressive late drive in a season-opening win over Georgia Tech , calls for a QB change from outside the program only got louder. Swinney never bought into the narrative. "I know how talented this kid is," Swinney said. "It's not theory. It's not pie in the sky. I've watched him. Everybody in the country recruited this kid. He's a great football player who had a bad year. And nobody wants to hear all the reasons why. They just want to pile on DJ. Everybody wants a quarterback change. I just have belief in him. I know who he is. I know his heart. So it's easy. If he wasn't doing everything, it'd be different." Indeed, after Saturday's performance, Swinney said media who criticized his QB owed Uiagalelei an apology. "After four games, if you don't recognize this kid's special ability, then you're blind," Swinney said. "You just want something else to write about. Hopefully everybody can tear up all those articles you've written, or take some ownership for them at this point. This kid's a winner. He is the unquestioned leader on this team." For his part, Uiagalelei downplayed the redemption arc, saying he was simply thankful for a chance to keep playing. Both he and Swinney pointed to a far more talented supporting cast this season -- running back Will Shipley had 104 yards on the ground, and four different receivers caught TDs against Wake -- as a reason for Uiagalelei's turnaround. "I'm just trying to do my part," Uiagalelei said. "Every time I step on the field I want to have that confidence in myself. And as an offense, I feel like we keep getting better, better and better." The job will continue to be a tough one next week as Clemson hosts a ranked NC State team, but Swinney said he's fully convinced he has the right QB for the job. "I've never been happier for a guy," Swinney said. "All these people had written him off like he's some sort of terrible player. He's not. We weren't very good around him. It's so good to see him where he is right now. He's an unquestioned leader with complete belief. He's got his mojo back."