5 Midseason Superlatives for Clemson
Football season always flies by quickly, but maybe because we waited so long to get to it, and wondered if it would ultimately happen and how, this season being halfway over boggles the mind.
That said, No. 1 Clemson (6-0, 5-0 ACC) only has five regular-season games left and a highly-probable trip to the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, N.C. It's time to take a look back at the first half of this 11-game, altered schedule and hand out some midseason superlatives:
Biggest surprise: It finally happened. After four years of waiting, the tight end has returned to the Clemson offense. What's an even bigger surprise is that it's not one but two players who have made this role productive for the first time since Jordan Leggett. Braden Galloway was presumed to step up, and he's recorded 16 receptions for 184 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, Davis Allen has been the real playmaker with three touchdown hauls on eight receptions. He also leads the team with 21 yards per catch.
Biggest disappointment: Clemson has ranked in the top 15 nationally in rushing yards per game in the previous two seasons, but this year, the Tigers' 176 yards per game is 40th best in the country. Even behind Travis Etienne, one of the best running backs FBS has seen in recent years, the team is averaging just 4.6 yards per carry. That's shockingly lower than last year's 6.4 yards per rush. There are reasons. Clemson's offensive line has four new starters, and it's taking some time to get better at run blocking. Also, without Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins on the outside at receiver, teams are stacking the box and giving Etienne, who's averaging 6.3 yards per carry, fewer running lanes. And finally, the backups haven't exactly impressed. Lyn-J Dixon, No. 2 on the depth chart, is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry.
Offensive MVP: It's impossible not to pick the Heisman Trophy frontrunner here. Junior Trevor Lawrence has been exceptional, minus a less-than-great performance against Syracuse last week. He leads the ACC in completion percentage, passing yards, passing touchdowns, yards per pass attempt and QB rating. Lawrence has led the Tigers on and off the field, and while an argument could be made that Etienne is just as important, and maybe even more so, to the offense's success, Lawrence has clearly stepped up his game from a year ago, even without an all-star receiving corps. Everything has slowed down for him and he's a nightmare for opponents to stop.
Defensive MVP: There is no shortage of candidates for this honor. In fact, if you wanted to give it to defensive tackle Tyler Davis, it would be hard to argue, even though he's only played in half of Clemson's six games. It's quite noticeable when he isn't in there and it affects much of what the defense does. But let's go with Baylon Spector, the linebacker who's come on strong this season and emerged as a true playmaker. He leads the team with 32 tackles and is second in sacks (2.5) and tackles for a loss (5.5). Spector's ability to blitz off the edge in three-man fronts has allowed the Tigers to get creative all over the field, including in the secondary.
Best coaching job: Cornerbacks coach Mike Reed has done an outstanding job with his position group. Remember Week 1 against Wake Forest? Without preseason All-ACC selection Derion Kendrick on the field, Clemson's corners looked overwhelmed at times and got beat on a couple of plays. Then the switch flipped a few weeks later against Virginia and Miami, and Andrew Booth, Sheridan Jones and Kendrick started making plays, breaking up passes and recording interceptions. Reed has had to deal with not knowing from week-to-week who's all going to be available, but he's mentored a group that's improved every week and become a strength.