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Clemson Football: Tigers Midseason Review and Second Half Preview

DJ Uiagalelei's remarkable turnaround combined with a stout defense has the Tigers poised to get back to the ACC Championship Game and potentially more.
DJ Uiagalelei, Clemson Tigers Football

After struggling mightily last season, Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei has emerged as one of the best in the nation at his position.

Clemson being 7-0 and sitting in the top five of the polls is hardly a new experience. Since 2015, the Tigers have been in this situation six times.

But coming off last year's "disappointing" 10-3 record, getting back among the nation's elite has been enthusiastically welcomed by the Clemson faithful. There have been some stiff tests and things have been a little uneven at times, but Dabo Swinney's team is right where they always expect to be going down the home stretch.

Related: College Football Bowl Projections for 2022-23

Here is a review of the first seven games with thoughts on the final five contests.

Offensive MVP: DJ Uiagalelei, QB

So much for Cade Klubnik taking over, huh? Whether it was pressure from the touted freshman or that he slimmed down in the offseason, the junior from Inland Empire, California, has been a different player in 2022, completing 64 percent of his passes with a 17:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio while also factoring into the run game.

Defensive MVP: Myles Murphy, DE

Murphy got off to a bit of a slow start statistically in the first two games, totaling just three tackles with none of those resulting in lost yardage. But in the last five games, Murphy has exploded with 8.5 tackles for a loss with five of those being sacks. He also is coming off a dominating performance this past Saturday versus Florida State.

Best Moment of the First Half: The Double Overtime Win at Wake Forest

When Clemson got up 14-0 early, it looked like it would be a Tiger walk in the park. But Sam Hartman and the Deacons never stopped battling to the point where at times in the second half it was Wake that was taking control. Clemson got a late B.T. Potter field goal to tie, before two 21-yard touchdown passes in the overtime sessions by Uiagalelei finally put away Wake.

Best Newcomer: Antonio Williams, WR

Williams was a top-75 recruit coming out of Irmo, South Carolina, but few could have expected the impact he would make as a true freshman. He currently leads the team in catches (24) and receiving yards (334) and has built a nice rapport with his quarterback.

Biggest Surprise: Uiagalelei

There was optimism that he could improve over 2021, but it is shocking how much he has progressed. His completion rate is up 8.4 percentage points, he has had a 1.8 yards per attempt improvement, his TD-to-interception ratio has gone from minus-one to plus-15, and he already has more rushing yards than last year.

Three Things to Watch in the Second Half

1. Health
An old saying is that the best ability is availability and so far this season Clemson has had a number of players miss action, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Bryan Bresee, Tyler Davis, Sheridan Jones, and Andrew Mukuba are just some of the important components that have been in and out of the lineup in 2022. The Tigers may be able to survive the final five games on the schedule at less than full strength, but to compete in the postseason they will need to be completely stocked.

2. Phil Mafah and Kobe Pace
Will Shipley is a warrior and will do whatever is needed for Clemson to win. But the Clemson staff was confident in Mafah and Pace coming into the year and the duo has not produced much to this point. Pace is currently part of the walking wounded group, battling a high ankle sprain. But after rushing for more than 600 yards last year, he has just 59 through seven games this fall. Mafah has 189, but more is needed to keep Shipley fresh for what is hopefully a run into 2023.

3. Can the pass defense improve?
The defensive pass numbers are downright scary. The Tigers are 12th in the ACC in pass defense and 95th in the nation, allowing 256 yards per game. They also have given up 30 pass plays of more than 20 yards, which is tied with North Carolina for worst in the ACC. As mentioned, injuries have been an issue and have forced young players into action, but this could be an Achilles heel if it is not shored up.

Ranking the Toughest Remaining Games on the Schedule

1. Syracuse, Oct. 22
2. South Carolina, Nov. 26
3. Miami, Nov. 19
4. at Notre Dame, Nov. 5
5. Louisville, Nov. 12

Podcast: Midseason Review, Second-Half Predictions, and Dream Conference Championship Games

Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, focusing on the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.