Klubnik, No. 10 Clemson rout No. 24 UNC 39-10 for ACC title

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Backup quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score and No. 10 Clemson reclaimed the Atlantic Coast Conference championship with a 39-10 victory over No. 24 North Carolina on Saturday night.

Cornerback Nate Wiggins broke up two passes in the end zone, blocked a field goal and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown to help the Tigers win their seventh ACC title in eight seasons.

Clemson (11-2, No. 9 CFP) won six straight ACC championships from 2015 to 2020 before failing to reach the title game last season. But coach Dabo Swinney‘s Tigers rebounded in a big way, going 9-0 against ACC foes this season to reach the Orange Bowl.

They have Klubnik to thank for that.

With Clemson down 7-0, Swinney benched two-year starter D.J. Uiagalelei after the Tigers failed to pick up a first down on their first two possessions, Swinney turned to Klubnik, a 5-star recruit from Austin, Texas. He responded by leading the Tigers to four straight scores and a 24-10 lead at halftime.

Clemson stretched it to 39-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t the first time Swinney has turned to Klubnik.

He benched Uiagalelei in the second half against Syracuse and Klubnik responded by leading the Tigers to a come-from-behind 27-21 victory. Swinney also turned to Klubnik against Notre Dame, although the results were the opposite with the freshman throwing a Pick 6 in a 35-14 loss.

Swinney has never been shy about replacing veteran QBs with less experienced players. He did it in 2014, sitting Cole Stoudt for Deshaun Watson, and again in 2018 replacing Kelly Bryant with Trevor Lawrence.

ACC player of the year Drake Maye was limited to 268 yards passing and turned the ball over three times for North Carolina (9-4, No. 23 CFP), which was seeking its first ACC championship since 1980 when Lawrence Taylor was wreaking havoc on quarterbacks.

Maye got things started on the right foot for the Tar Heels, capping an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead on UNC’s first possession.

But the Tar Heels repeatedly sputtered on offense inside the red zone after that, the biggest blow coming when Maye misfired near the goal line and Wiggins – who had struggled in Clemson’s 51-45 win over Wake Forest – returned his pass for a touchdown to give Clemson a 32-10 lead with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

Klubnik provided an immediate spark for Clemson.

He led the Tigers on a nine-play, 71-yard drive, culminating in a 1-yard TD pass to Davis Allen. After Maye’s fumble, Klubnik caught a 19-yard pass from Phil Mafah to set up Mafah’s 4-yard touchdown run – Clemson’s second TD in a span of 40 seconds.

Klubnik then showed off his arm strength with a 68-yard pass to fellow freshman Cole Turner to set up his own 1-yard TD run for a 21-7 lead.

END OF AN ERA

This is the final year the ACC will feature its two division winners playing for a championship. In future years, all ACC teams will be lumped together and the two teams with the best records will advance to the title game.

THE TAKEAWAY

North Carolina: Maye garnered plenty of Heisman Trophy talk during the season, but the Tar Heels offense has stalled resulting in a three-game losing streak. But as long as Maye doesn’t transfer – and there are no indications he will given his family history at North Carolina – the Tar Heels have a good chance to get back to the ACC title game next season.

Clemson: The Tigers have set a high bar by winning national championships, so as much as they will enjoy getting back atop the ACC mountain there will be plenty of talk over whether Swinney cost his team a chance at a spot in the College Football Playoff by not turning to Klubnik at quarterback earlier in the season. It seems Uiagalelei might be a logical transfer portal candidate.

UP NEXT

Clemson will play in the Orange Bowl, while North Carolina awaits a bowl bid.

Swinney: Top TD pass catcher Beaux Collins done for the year

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
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CLEMSON, S.C. – Receiver Beaux Collins needs surgery on his injured right shoulder and will not play the rest of the season, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Tuesday.

Collins is a 6-foot-3 sophomore who leads the 10th-ranked Tigers with five touchdown catches. He returned Saturday after missing the two previous games because of a separated shoulder and had two catches, including a 59-yard grab that was Clemson’s longest completion of the season.

Collins reinjured the shoulder against the Gamecocks and came back to the sidelines with his arm in a sling. Clemson lost 31-30 to South Carolina.

Swinney said Collins would miss the ACC championship game against No. 24 North Carolina and the Tigers’ bowl game.

He finished the season with 22 catches for 373 yards.

Swinney: Uiagalelei will remain Clemson’s starting QB

Anderson Independent Mail-USA TODAY Sports
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CLEMSON, S.C. – Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said DJ Uiagalelei will remain the team’s starting quarterback for the ACC Championship game against No. 24 North Carolina.

Swinney said Sunday that Uiagalelei was not the reason for the 10th-ranked Tigers’ 31-30 loss to rival South Carolina ON Saturday.

Uiagalelei completed just 8 of 29 passes for 99 yards in the rivalry loss. He threw a interception in the second half as the Tigers were trying to rally for the go-ahead score.

Swinney said Uiagalelei’s receivers had a number of drops and the defensive backs were beaten deep by South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler at crucial moments.

“He’s still the starter,” Swinney said. “He doesn’t play safety or catch the ball. He’s got his share of things he can do better. But he will definitely start the game.”

Uiagalelei appeared as if he had found his form through Clemson’s 7-0 start with 17 touchdowns and just two interceptions. But he has thrown at least one pick in the Tigers’ past five games and was benched against Syracuse and Notre Dame for freshman Cade Klubnik.

The Tigers (10-2) look for their seventh Atlantic Coast Conference crown in the past eight seasons when they face the Tar Heels (9-3) on Saturday.