Analyst, former Tiger discusses if Clemson, Uiagalelei will bounce back this season

Analyst, former Tiger discusses if Clemson, Uiagalelei will bounce back this season

Football

Analyst, former Tiger discusses if Clemson, Uiagalelei will bounce back this season

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Based on what he witnessed from Clemson during spring ball, a former Tiger standout believes Dabo Swinney’s team is poised to have a bounce-back season this year.

Former Clemson and All-ACC offensive lineman/ACC Network analyst Eric Mac Lain recently joined McElroy & Cubelic in the Morning with former Alabama quarterback/ESPN college football analyst Greg McElroy and former Auburn offensive lineman/ESPN and SEC Network college football analyst Cole Cubelic on Jox 94.5/WJOX-FM.

Mac Lain talked about his expectations for Clemson this season coming off its 2021 campaign, during which the Tigers (10-3, 6-2 ACC) extended their streak of seasons with at least 10 wins to a school-record 11 but saw their streak of six straight ACC Championships come to an end, with Pittsburgh claiming the conference crown thanks to its 45-21 victory over Wake Forest in the conference title game last December.

“Just what I’ve seen from spring, I think that this is going to be a big bounce-back year,” Mac Lain said of the Tigers. “So when you say plateaued, I’m not sure if that’s quite the case. I think that certainly folks around them are getting better. I mean, my goodness, Pittsburgh looked fantastic last year. Wake, as good as they were, still got beaten pretty well. NC State playing very, very well. Who knows what Miami is going to look like this year, but expect them to drastically improve.

“So, with that, I do think Clemson was this water that made all ships rise, right – it made everyone better, it made everyone get better.”

As for D.J. Uiagalelei, who struggled in his first full season as Clemson’s starting quarterback in 2021, Mac Lain has been very impressed by the slimmed-down signal-caller’s physical transformation this offseason but still has questions about how his new physique will translate to his performance on the field during the season.

“Certainly when you have a quarterback that couldn’t move out of the pocket, that couldn’t extend plays, that couldn’t read Man 2 (coverage) and get out of it, against Georgia specifically… there was some problems, and we saw that on the field quite evidently,” Mac Lain said. “So now that we’ve seen D.J. Uiagalelei really change his body, his composition, he looks fantastic. He looks like a totally different football player. But what does that mean in the spring game? Greg, as you well know, you QBs aren’t touched, you’re not hit. And so whether he would’ve gotten out of a play, can he extend a play, how well is this new body going to really work? It’s still yet to be determined.”

On the other side of the ball, Mac Lain has no concerns about Clemson’s defense, which ranked second nationally last season in scoring defense (14.8 points per game allowed) behind only national champion Georgia (10.2).

The Tigers’ defensive unit features no shortage of talent and depth up front with linemen like Myles Murphy, Xavier Thomas, K.J. Henry, Bryan Bresee and Tyler Davis, to name some.

“I’m not worried about the defense at all,” Mac Lain said. “I think they’re going to be one of the best in the country. I think that defensive line is the best in the country when you look at depth and star power. But the biggest question until proven otherwise is going to be quarterback play, and just what can he do?”

Although Uiagalelei completed only 55.6 percent of his passes while throwing more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (nine) as a sophomore last season, Mac Lain knows what he is capable of – Uiagalelei threw for 781 yards and four touchdowns with no picks in two starts vs. Boston College and Notre Dame as a true freshman in 2020 – and Mac Lain isn’t ready to write off the former five-star prospect just yet heading into his junior season.

Speaking of five-star prospects, Mac Lain thinks the competition that Cade Klubnik has brought to the quarterback position after enrolling early in January could potentially prove very beneficial to Uiagalelei this season.

“I honestly think the best thing that has happened to Clemson in this offseason is the fact that Cade Klubnik, one of the best players in the country last year from high school, enrolled early and has really pushed D.J.,” Mac Lain said. “And I think as you know, competition makes everyone better, and it’s going to be one of those things… Is this another situation that at four games, we see a change, or did that pressure, did that competitiveness, push D.J. to be the best version of himself?

“We’ve seen flashes, we know he can do it. It’s unbelievable to see the drastic disparity in performance, yet I think he can take that step. So, I’m not writing him off at any means of the imagination yet for being one of the better quarterbacks in the conference. I think he can certainly get there. But as I said, until proven otherwise, Greg, they have a way to go offensively.”

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