Uiagalelei will make his debut for Oregon State when the Beavers open their season Sunday against San Jose State (0-1) after separating himself in fall camp.
“His body of work throughout, he just continued to get better and better,” Smith said. “I do think there was a separation: We had two big scrimmages and he played the best in those two. I do think we’ve got other guys in that room that can compete and help us win games. But I think the separator in our minds was really those two scrimmages."
Uiagalelei came to Clemson as a heralded recruit and showed flashes of that ability as a freshman playing behind Trevor Lawrence. But he struggled as the starter the last two seasons and got benched late last season.
He threw for 4,767 yards and 31 TDs the last two seasons but also had 17 interceptions.
Spartans coach Brent Brennan knows how dangerous Uiagalelei can be.
“D.J. is just such a big man,” Brennan said. “He can make every throw. He's one of the most talented players I’ve ever seen. So that’s an incredible challenge for us because we’re preparing for a player that we haven’t seen play in this scheme.”
The Spartans opened the season a week early, losing 56-28 at No. 6 Southern California last week. They managed to keep the game relatively close until late in the third quarter thanks in part to the playmaking ability of quarterback Chevan Cordeiro. Smith sees pluses and minuses with the Beavers not having had a game yet.
“There’s some advantages of being able to see their first game on tape," he said. "I think there’s disadvantages, of them getting their first game and the kinks and the mechanics that come with that, working through that. Usually, you make a huge jump and improvement from week one to week two. ... They went toe to toe with those guys for a long time, a couple plays separated the game. They had our attention but it raised our urgency recognizing how good a football team this is.”
The Beavers know what they are dealing with in Cordeiro, who threw for 366 yards and two TDs for Hawaii against Oregon State in 2021. Cordeiro threw for three TDs last week against USC and also ran for 52 yards.
“I remember in ’21, him making plays, extending it, throwing it well, and he’s just built on all the experience he’s had," Smith said. "He’s turned into a good decision-maker with the ball. And again, he’s tough to defend because of his athleticism.”
The Spartans are playing ranked teams in the first two games of the season for the first time since 2010, when they lost to Alabama and Wisconsin. San Jose State is 1-30 against ranked opponents since 2001, with the only win coming against Fresno State in 2013.
“It’s an awesome opportunity for our team and for our program,” Brennan said. “This is a another big, big challenge for us.”
RUN TO DAYLIGHT
Uiagalelei should have plenty of help, especially from running back Damien Martinez, who ran for 982 yards and seven TDs as a freshman. Martinez had six straight games with at least 100 yards to end the regular season and averaged 6.1 yards per carry.
Brennan was an assistant at Oregon State coaching wide receivers from 2011-16. He said he enjoyed his time there and looks forward to coaching against receiver Silas Bolden, the younger brother of one of Brennan's recruits during his time there, Victor Bolden.
“It’s kind of amazing,” Brennan said. “It makes me feel old because when I recruited Victor, Silas was just a little kid. He was just a little guy running around the house. Now he’s a great receiver and kick returner for them.”
AP Sports Writer Anne M. Peterson contributed to this report
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll