Clemson QB DJ Uiagalelei slimmer, mentally ready for season

Ken Ruinard / USA Today Network/USA TODAY NETWORK
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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei was bulky, bothered by injuries, and beaten down last year by critics upset that the Tigers were out of the ACC and national championship picture.

Now, some 15 pounds trimmer, 100% healthy and mentally refreshed, Uiagalelei believes he’s once more the dynamic playmaker he showed his freshman season instead of the misfiring mess he appeared at times a year ago.

“I think I see a totally different guy,” Uiagalelei said. “I’ve gotten better from the last game, someone who’s gone through it and is a totally different quarterback.”

The fourth-ranked Tigers open the season vs. Georgia Tech at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Few thought Uiagalelei had little to change after his stunning cameo as a freshman. Uiagalelei replaced starter Trevor Lawrence – the NFL No. 1 overall pick missed two Clemson games with COVID-19 – in two stellar performances.

In his first college start, Uiagalelei threw for 342 yards and two TDs to rally Clemson from 18 points down in a 34-28 win over Boston College. A week later, Uiagalelei threw for a school-record 439 yards in a 47-40 overtime loss at Notre Dame – the most ever thrown by an opposing QB at the home of Touchdown Jesus.

The following fall, Uiagalelei was the highly anticipated starter and a Heisman Trophy contender. Things, though, quickly went awry.

Uiagalelei was off-target in a season-opening, 10-3 loss to eventual national champion Georgia and a 27-21 OT defeat at North Carolina State three weeks later that took the Tigers out of contention for their seventh straight ACC crown and College Football Playoff berth.

That’s when the criticism hit hard. The cool California kid heard calls for his benching and rumors he might transfer because he needed a fresh start somewhere else.

He had hurt a finger early on, then sprained a knee ligament last November. He was able to play through both. Still, that was certainly a factor in him completing less than 56% of his passes for 10 interceptions against nine touchdowns.

Turns out all Uiagalelei needed was time to heal, change his diet and restore a healthy mindset.

“I feel he’s in a really good spot,” first-year Clemson offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter said. “He has confidence in himself and we have confidence in him.”

The most difficult part for Uiagalelei was changing his eating regimen. He had to give up sweets, something impossible for many college students. The results were apparent as Uiagalelei will play at a much more tapered 235 pounds than his listed 250 pounds from a year ago.

Uiagalelei watched film with Streeter to shore up his technique. Streeter would stop the tape and ask, “You coach yourself, DJ.”

“He was quick to answer,” Streeter said. “He’s a really sharp kid.”

The effect on the field is also apparent during Clemson’s fall practices. Defensive end K.J. Henry said the junior looks more elusive and decisive heading into the opener.

“He’s done much better and one of those guys who’ll be the best version of himself” this year, Henry said.

Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins is also anticipating the best version of Uiagalelei.

“He’s a dangerous runner, throws a nice deep ball. They way he runs that offense when they’re clicking,” Collins said, “I think they won six straight to end the season.”

Uiagalelei hung tough to power that closing run and knows he’s ready for another step forward. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney routinely asks his players for a word they carry into the season. Uiagalelei chose a phrase, “Roll The Dice.”

To him it means not dwelling on other’s opinions. “You bet on yourself,” Uiagalelei said. “You show people what you can do.”

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.