There were a few questions facing Clemson when the season opened. Could the young offensive line hold up? Could the losses on the defensive front seven be replaced? And after the early injury to Mike Williams, who would be the deep threat?
The Tigers are 6-0 and are a prime College Football Playoff contender. Questions answered.
Here is a breakdown of the season’s first half and a look ahead to the run to the finish.
Offensive MVP: QB Deshaun Watson
Until Saturday, Watson had not been amassing eye-popping numbers and he has to be disappointed by the seven interceptions. But he has been the catalyst for everything Clemson has done offensively. When the Tigers were having trouble moving the ball against Louisville and Notre Dame, he made plays with his feet. Then he torched Boston College’s tough defense for 420 yards and three touchdowns. Watson is the total package.
Defensive MVP: DE Shaq Lawson
Ben Boulware has been great. So have Jayron Kearse, Kevin Dodd, Mackensie Alexander and several others. But big No. 90 has been a mismatch for every opponent. Lawson has 26 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and a team-high 10.5 tackles that have resulted in 44 lost yards. Lawson has been a beast.
Best Moment of the First Half: The Final Stop Against Notre Dame
Stuffing Notre Dame’s final two-point conversion to preserve the 24-22 victory is definitely the top moment of the first half. Not only did this victory give the Tigers a high quality win for the Playoff selection committee to look at, it also has given them a boost, as they have mauled their last two opponents.
Best Newcomer: LT Mitch Hyatt
As the left tackle protecting Watson’s blind side, the true freshman was given a lot of responsibility. Hyatt has responded to the point where he has probably been the best offensive lineman for the Tigers this season. He will be tested again, but he will also continue to improve.
Biggest Surprise: The Offensive Line
The offensive line was probably the biggest question mark coming into the season. Early in the year there were some shaky moments, but they have gotten better each week and helping the offense accumulate 532 yards on BC’s top-ranked defense is impressive.
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
1. Continued Development of the Offensive Line
Yes, this group has been a surprise, but it still is the one area of the offense that causes some concern. Georgia Tech was able to get a little pressure on Watson and most of Wayne Gallman’s rushing yards came on big plays. Boston College does have a great defensive front, and the Eagles limited Gallman on the ground and sacked Watson three times although the Tigers put up huge numbers otherwise. If the offensive line remains solid, Clemson should run the table.
2. The Freshmen Receivers
The Tigers utilized Ray-Ray McCloud right from the get-go. He’s been a solid, productive player during the first six games. But he is only averaging 7.7 yards per catch and has not made many plays downfield. Look for that to change as McCloud has the speed to beat teams deep. Also, Deon Cain has shown flashes that he can do some of the things Williams has done in the past.
3. Cordrea Tankersley
With Mackensie Alexander on the other corner, Tankersley was going to be tested. He has delivered. But the fact remains that Alexander is still on the other side and he is still really, really good. That means teams are still going to target Tankersley and if his second half is as strong as his first half, Clemson will continue to field a dominant defense.
Ranking the Toughest Remaining Games on the Schedule
Nov. 7 Florida State
This looks like it is setting up as the game that will decide the ACC Atlantic Division. The Noles are 6-0 as well and played their best half of football in the final two quarters of Saturday’s game against Louisville.
Oct. 31 at NC State
The Wolfpack have knocked off highly ranked opponents in the past. The game being in Raleigh makes it even trickier.
Oct. 24 at Miami
The Hurricanes are going to have trouble stopping Clemson. But if Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya gets hot, he can put points on the board.
Nov. 28 at South Carolina
It is the big rivalry game and the Gamecocks would love to ruin Clemson’s season. But Clemson will be ready too and South Carolina just isn’t that good.
Nov. 14 at Syracuse
Going on the road the week after the Florida State game will require some focus. But Clemson responded after the Notre Dame battle and the Tigers should easily win this orange battle.
Nov. 21 Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons are unsteady at quarterback and their defense has slipped in recent weeks. This will be an easy Tigers win.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.