Clemson scores vs. North Carolina, gist: DJ Uiagaleli stars Tigers stomping Wolfpack in top-10 matchup

The biggest ACC game of the season so far became the stage for No. to make a massive statement. 5 Clemson is No. 1 as the Tigers. 10 NC State 30-20 Saturday in Death Valley. Star quarterback DJ Uiagalelei was fantastic for Coach Dabo Swinney’s team, completing 21 of 30 passes for 209 yards with one touchdown and zero interceptions. He also added 73 rushing yards and two other points.

The game started with a shooting feast, but Uiagalelei took control as he led the Tigers to a frantic two-minute kickoff to end the first half, giving Clemson a much-needed boost after a very sloppy 30 minutes. He was well protected on a 26-yard pass to run Will Shipley from the backcourt to set the Tigers at the 1-yard line, and Uiagalelei took it from there to give Clemson a 13- 10 leads.

The offensive line maintained that momentum in the second half as the Tigers scored quickly, making it a two-point game and demoralizing a Wolves team that couldn’t play. Hold to only 34 rushing yards, North Carolina. Let the Clemson top seven tee off quarterback Devin Leary in the second half. Leary finished 28-for-47 for 245 yards with 1 touchdown and 1 interception.

The win pushed Clemson to 3-0 in the ACC, with two wins coming from rivals in the ranked division. Does this mean Clemson is “returning” as a national power? It remains to be seen. But there’s no question that two wins in the division title and division title contenders will not only give Sweeney’s crew confidence, but also give the Tigers a chance to return to the ACC championship game.

What’s the biggest takeaway from the game?

New and improved DJU

Swinney and offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter apparently worked hard to get Uiagalelei involved in the game against the Wolfpack, something they’ve touted this season. Uiagalelei had a big 38-yard run on the Tigers’ first possession of the second half, he took off in the middle and broke it off the left sideline. That set the stage for Jake Briningstool’s 7-yard touchdown pass that made it 20-10 the next two games.

Uiagalelei’s legs are clearly part of the game plan more than ever. Last year, he had 308 yards on the ground and averaged 2.93 yards per carry in 13 games. In five games this year, he has racked up 169 yards with an average of 4.12 yards per carry. Teams will be forced to incorporate this element into their defensive play preparations on a weekly basis, which will open up passing windows deep in the backcourt.

Clemson is at its best when the quarterback is a big part of the charge. Uiagalelei is fast becoming that.

Clemson’s defense is back

The Tigers are without star defensive tackle Brian Bracey, who is out of the game due to non-football health conditions. His teammates in the top seven made up for the slack…and then some.

The Tigers blocked NC State from the scrimmage seven times, kept the Wolfpack to 1.6 yards per rush, and went 5-for-14 in the third conversion. Defensive lineman Miles Murphy had 1.5 sacks, Tyler Davis had 1.5 tackles, and KJ Henry had a tackle and a pass break on the night.

It was a huge rebound from last week’s double-overtime win with Wake Forest, where the defense allowed the Devils to 6.57 yards per game. There are some concerns over whether new defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin can remain in the role after former coordinator Brent Venables continued to coach Oklahoma City. Saturday’s performance suggested that the new year may be fresh, but this is the same elite Clemson defense that’s ready to return to ACC prominence — and possibly come out on top in the college football playoffs.

North Carolina is a pretender

Saturday marked the first time in the history of the program that NC State has entered the top 10 as a top 10 team. But it turns out that there is still a long way to go to become a serious contender on the national stage.

It’s hard not to feel sorry for Leary. Clemson is kicking off the veteran quarterback as it hasn’t felt threatened by the Wolves’ charge throughout the game. One-dimensional teams won’t win championships, they’ll be exposed. That’s exactly what happened in North Carolina.

This shouldn’t be a shock. North Carolina State ranks ninth in the ACC in rushing yards per game at 157.5 and eighth in rushing yards per game at 4.38. It’s hard to keep trusting this offense until coach Dave Doeren addresses the issue.

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