Clemson’s Swinney: If DJ can’t improve, ‘someone else’ plays

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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is prepared to do what it takes to improve his struggling offense – even if that means benching starting quarterback DJ Uiagalelei for more than a series or two.

Uiagalelei, a 6-foot-3, 235-pound junior, was removed from each of the past two games, the last a demoralizing 35-14 loss at No. 20 Notre Dame last week that ended the undefeated start of the 12th-ranked Tigers (8-1, 6-0 Atlantic Coast Conference).

Uiagalelei will start this week at home against Louisville (6-3, 3-3), Swinney said, but if he can’t find his form from earlier this season, he won’t stay in.

“He has to play better and get back on track. That’s the reality of the situation,” Swinney said Tuesday. “We’ve watched every play with him. If you don’t play better, someone else gets a chance.”

The past two games that’s been five-star freshman backup Cade Klubnik, with mixed results.

Uiagalelei left the Syracuse game on Oct. 22 in the third quarter after three turnovers and Clemson trailing 21-10. Klubnik sparked a fourth-quarter rally and a 27-21 victory that, combined with an upcoming bye week, was the perfect way for Uiagalelei and the Tigers’ offense to refresh and regroup for the stretch run.

Instead, Clemson played its worst game of the season in all phases – it had a punt blocked for a TD, Uiagalelei and Klubnik each threw interceptions leading to scores, and the Irish ran for 271 yards.

Swinney said that’s not all on Uiagalelei, who in 2020 threw for 439 yards at Notre Dame Stadium as a freshman in his second career start.

Uiagalelei “doesn’t punt protect and he’s not asked to stop the run,” Swinney said.

Still, for the Tigers to cling to their fading College Football Playoff hopes, somebody has to play at a high level.

The offense has not lost faith in Uiagalelei, according to left tackle Jordan McFadden.

“Being around DJ for the last three years, I still don’t have any doubt in him,” he said. “I believe in him 100%. He’s a battler.”

Uiaglelei was expected to seamlessly take over in 2021 for NFL No. 1 overall draft pick Trevor Lawrence and continue Clemson’s run of six straight ACC titles and CFP berths. Instead, Clemson opened 2-2 and slipped from all championship contention.

Uiagalelei committed to improving with a healthier mindset (pushing out criticisms), better technique and a slimmer body after losing 30 pounds in the offseason.

The changes seemed to work with Uiagalelei throwing 17 touchdowns against two interceptions in Clemson’s first seven wins. Then came Syracuse and he was picked twice and gave up a 90-yard fumble return TD with Clemson inside the Orange 10-yard line.

Despite Klubnik’s performance, Uiagalelei was back in charge last week. He finished 29 of 37 for 191 yards and a late touchdown pass to Joseph Ngata with Notre Dame comfortably out front. Uiagalelei also was picked for a 96-yard touchdown return.

With Clemson wanting to finish strong – and hold onto its fading CFP hopes – the offense needs to get going as it did in averaging almost 39 points a game through its first seven contests.

“We’re in a rut,” said Kyle Richardson, the tight ends coach and pass game coordinator. “And nobody’s sitting here trying to disagree with that. We’ve got to play better, we’ve got to coach better.”

No one, though, is pushing the panic button on this team or any of its players, Richardson said, including Uiagalelei.

The job this week will be once more getting Uiagalelei to play more decisively and get caught up in making the perfect read. He’s done it earlier in the season and Richardson is confident he’ll do it again.

Swinney hopes so, too.

He has faith in both Uiagalelei and Klubnik, who’s completed 9 of 20 throws with a touchdown and last week’s interception at Notre Dame.

“The only thing worse than 8-1 is 8-2,” Swinney said. “We want to get to 9-1 and be who I know we are.”

Texas State hires Incarnate Word coach Kinne to lead Bobcats

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Texas State hired Incarnate Word coach G.J. Kinne on Friday to lead a Sun Belt program that has had only one winning season since moving up to the Bowl Subdivision in 2012.

The 34-year-old former Tulsa quarterback has made a fast rise in coaching since ending his professional career in 2017.

After three years as an offensive analyst at SMU, Arkansas and the Philadelphia Eagles, Kinne became offensive coordinator at Hawaii in 2020. He held the same role for UCF in 2021 before landing the head coaching job at FCS Incarnate Word this season.

Incarnate Word is 10-1 and averaging 53 points and 8.3 yards per play, both FCS highs, heading into its playoff game Saturday against Furman. Kinne will remain with Incarnate Word through their playoff run.

“It’s with great honor that I’m accepting the call to be next head football coach of the Texas State Bobcats,” Kinne said. “We are going to play fast, have relentless energy, and when the going gets tough, have the mental confidence to win tight games in the second half and represent the state of Texas. Eat ‘Em Up!”

Texas State fired Jake Spavital last week after the Bobcats won just 13 games in his four seasons.

Kinne signed a five-year contract, the school said. Terms were not immediately released.

“My goal was to hire someone with demonstrated leadership experience, success as a head coach, established relationships with Texas football coaches, and success with recruiting and developing players,” said Texas State President Kelly Damphousse. “I sought a leader with a plan to capitalize on our location in the heart of the best high school football in the country.”

Florida Atlantic hires Tom Herman as football coach

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BOCA RATON, Fla. – Former Texas and Houston head coach Tom Herman will take over at Florida Atlantic as it heads into its first season in the American Athletic Conference.

The hire comes just days after FAU fired Willie Taggart, who went 15-18 in his three seasons with the Owls. Details of the contract with Herman were not immediately available.

“We are incredibly excited to welcome Tom Herman to Paradise,” FAU Director of Athletics Brian White said Thursday. “Throughout the process and the more we talked with Coach Herman, the more it became apparent to me that he was the right person to lead our football program. Beyond his knowledge of the game, which is obvious by his success over the years, he also truly cares about the young people in his program.”

FAU’s final season in Conference USA ended with a 5-7 record and an overtime loss to Western Kentucky. The Owls will be in the American next season.

Herman returns to college football after spending the 2021 season with the Chicago Bears as an offensive analyst.

Herman was 22-4 at Houston, a mark that helped him land the head coaching job at Texas where he went 32-18 with four straight bowl trips in 2017-2020. He also was an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Ohio State during the Buckeyes’ 2014 national championship season, as well as stops at Iowa State, Rice and Texas State.

“All the pieces are in place at FAU for us to be successful,” Herman said. “There are already great young men on this team, great facilities, a great location, a great recruiting base and great leadership, all of which are important to building a successful program.”