The Clemson Tigers are not quite halfway through the 2021 season, the official midway point will be following the Tigers' trip to Syracuse on Oct. 15. However, we felt that the open date was a good time to go ahead and get our not-quite midseason grades given out.
Quarterback: D.J. Uiagalelei entered the 2021 season as a pick by many to walk away with the Heisman Trophy. After five games, the only trip to NYC that Uiagalelei will be making is if he pays for it himself with his Bojangle's or Dr. Pepper money.
Thus far, Uiagalelei ranks 85th in passing yards, t-107 in touchdown passes and 96th in quarterback rating.
While Uiagalelei has yet to find the magic that he showed in his two starts in 2020, head coach Dabo Swinney believes he is starting to find his groove.
"He has grown up in the run game and is making his presence known. He is hitting his stride there. He's a problem ... a big, strong, man who is hard to bring down," Swinney said. "That creates opportunities in the pass game. A lot of it has been fundamental stuff, miscommunication. We really played well upfront. I like how he managed the pocket, so we were pleased with that. He made good decisions and took care of the football. He missed some throws, a couple of touchdown opportunities and then we had some drops, too."
Offensive Line: For what it is worth, the Tigers' offensive line has been forced, by injuries, to play musical chairs. However, in the Tigers' last outing against Boston College, they may have found something.
With Will Putnam out, Matt Bockhorst moved from center to, his more natural position, right guard. Hunter Rayburn performed admirably in his start at center.
As a result of the changeup on the line, the Tigers amassed more than 200 yards rushing and did not allow a sack.
"Bockhorst was our player of the game," Swinney said. "He was tremendous ... by far his best game. And he helped Rayburn. The whole group played well. There were a lot of things on tape I was encouraged by. The game slowed down just a little bit for Marcus Tate. McFadden and Walker have been solid all year for us."
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Wide Receivers: In the first five games, Clemson ranks 117th nationally out of 130 teams, averaging only 176.8 yards per game through the air. Remember when Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney told the media that he said to wide receivers coach Tyler Grisham to "take a picture" of the 2021 group of receivers because they were going to look back five or six years from now and be amazed
It is clear that this group has not lived up to its potential.
"We got guys open. We have to catch the ball and we have to hit them, and once we do that consistently, you won't be asking me that question. We are either not catching it, or we're open and not hitting them," Swinney said. "It's a combination. Again, we took a step forward the other night but nowhere near where we need to be.
Tight Ends: Paging the tight ends...hello. As a group, the tight ends have 11 receptions for 66 yards. The following grade is as much, if not solely, a reflection of the playcalling, lack of opportunities or simply missed throws.
Running Backs: Gone is Lyn-J Dixon, who transferred out of the program after spending time in coach C.J. Spiller's love shack and losing his starting job to a true freshman Will Shipley. The Tigers run game has been good at times, in fact, the emergence of Shipley (who is currently out after suffering a leg injury, but is expected to return), Kobe Pace and fellow true freshman Phil Mafah may prove to be the biggest bright spots of an offensive start to the season that is far from what people expected.
In the Tigers' last game, the running game provided the only touchdown, a 59-yard touchdown run by Pace, and gave the fans their first look at Mafah—who showed why the coaching staff has been so high on the young man.
The Defense (As a whole): Swinney has said numerous times this season that the Tigers are one or two plays away from being 5-0 instead of 3-2. However, if it wasn't for the defense, the Tigers would be 1-4. The offense has put the defense in difficult situations time after time this season with their inability to move the ball, but every time the defense has responded.
The Tiger defense currently ranks fourth in scoring defense, 22nd in rush defense and 29th in total defense.