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Clemson's Midseason Superlatives

Clemson football has reached the halfway point of the season, so it's time to highlight big-time players and big plays from the 2021 season thus far.

Clemson has reached the halfway point of its season at 4-2 overall and 3-1 in ACC play.

The Tigers need NC State to lose two conference games, while winning out themselves, to get into the ACC championship game. It's been a rough year for the offense, but it hasn't been all bad through the first six contests. 

Here's a look at Clemson's midseason superlatives: 

Most valuable player: James Skalski

The veteran linebacker is the ultimate glue guy. Not only does is he second on the team in tackles behind Baylon Spector, but Skalski is the quarterback of the defense. His ability to get the defense lined up and make sure calls from the sideline get to everyone is invaluable. Skalski's ability allows defensive coordinator Brent Venables to get creative with other defenders because of the trust in his super senior. Skalski is also a leader and one of the heart-and-soul guys of the program. 

Most impressive player: Xavier Thomas

There are several players up for this category, but the defensive end gets this honor because he's finally living up to the hype that began so many years ago. Thomas leads the Tigers with 3.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for a loss, and he's made impacts in each and every game this season. His ability to get into the backfield, whether it's pushing his blocker out of the way or simply swimming around him, has helped Clemson continue to be one of the best defenses in college football. 

Best freshman: Andrew Mukuba

Because of injuries and depth issues, Clemson's had to rely on a lot of young players early on this season, but Mukuba proved his worth in the preseason and earned a starting role from Day 1. That's hard to do under Venables, but the lanky safety has made plays and been in the right positions more times than not. The sky is the limit for Mukuba, who's third on the team in tackles. 

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Best special teams player: B.T. Potter

While punter Will Spiers has done a nice job of helping Clemson control field position in several close games this season, Potter has arguably been the Tigers' best offensive weapon. He's been nearly automatic, making six of his seven field-goal attempts, and he continues to put the ball in the end zone or kick it short when Clemson wants to try to put the opponent deep in their own territory. Potter's reliability has led Dabo Swinney to take points at times when he might've gone for it in other years. 

Best offensive surprise: Kobe Pace

Essentially a freshman, Pace has picked up the pace following a very limited role last year. With fellow running back Will Shipley on the mend from a leg injury, Pace has led the Tigers in yards the last two games, both wins. He averaged nearly 7 yards per carry against Boston College and 5.4 per run against Syracuse. Pace scored in both of those games, something Clemson's had a hard time doing on offense. Even when Shipley returns, Pace has shown he deserves plenty of work. 

Best defensive surprise: Ruke Orhorhoro

Many defenses would've crumbled without two starting tackles inside, especially when they are of the caliber of Bryan Bresee and Tyler Davis. But Orhorhoro has made sure that the drop-off has been limited. He's produced 4.5 tackles for loss and has more than held his own against different offensive lines. Orhorhoro's ability to shed blocks and play to the scheme with limited experience has allowed Thomas and Myles Murphy to do their thing on the outside. 

Player on the rise: Davis Allen

Clemson has struggled mightily in the passing game, but the veteran tight end has become a focal point of the offense in recent weeks. Allen beat out Braden Galloway for the starting job several weeks ago, and with Galloway out with injury, Davis, who's third on the team in receptions, had eight catches in the win against Syracuse, including a fantastic jump-and-grab on a fake-punt throw by Spiers for a big first down. Even with Galloway returning, Davis has found a place in the screen and short passing game that will continue to give him opportunities. 

Biggest offensive play: Pace's scamper

There aren't as many candidates for this as in past seasons, but Joseph Ngata's touchdown catch against Syracuse, Shipley's hard TD run against Georgia Tech, Justyn Ross' big leap and others are up for consideration. But the winner goes to Pace, who took a handoff right up the BC gut and scored on a 59-yard touchdown run, the team's longest play from scrimmage this season. 

Biggest defensive play: Skalski's stop

There are almost too many to count, but the play Skalski made against Georgia Tech saved the season. After the Yellow Jackets got down to the Clemson 2 with 15 seconds left, and Skalski snuffed out a shovel pass play on fourth down to keep GT out of the end zone and essentially seal the win. 

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