ACC analyst expects a fistfight in the Atlantic Division

ACC analyst expects a fistfight in the Atlantic Division

Football

ACC analyst expects a fistfight in the Atlantic Division

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Clemson has mostly owned the ACC’s Atlantic Division in recent years, en route to capturing the conference championship in six straight seasons prior to seeing Wake Forest win the division last year before going on to lose to Pittsburgh in the ACC Championship Game.

While the Tigers may be the favorite to reclaim the Atlantic Division crown in 2022, behind a defensive line and overall defensive unit that projects to be among the best in the country, this ACC analyst doesn’t think winning the division will be a cakewalk for Clemson.

With the teams that finished first and second in the Atlantic a year ago (Wake Forest and NC State) returning a bunch of key players, including quarterbacks Sam Hartman and Devin Leary, respectively – and the question marks surrounding Clemson’s quarterback situation and what the Tigers will get out of D.J. Uiagalelei coming off his down season in 2021 – Eric Mac Lain expects the division to be a battle this fall.

The former Clemson offensive lineman and current ACC Network analyst was asked on Packer and Durham with Mark Packer and Wes Durham recently if he senses a fistfight in the Atlantic this season.

“I think until proven otherwise, yeah,” Mac Lain said. “I mean, what is D.J. going to be, what is this offense going to be from Clemson? We have to see it. It’s not so much as it just totally has fallen apart. But you saw the spring game, there wasn’t much glimpse of it — it was vanilla and you can’t hit the quarterback, so we don’t know how mobile he’s going to be. But until proven otherwise, that Clemson offense has to regain some trust.

“Now, defensively, I think they’re going to be one of the best, if not the best in the country. But it also speaks to what NC State has done and who they have coming back and the team that they’ll have, as well as Wake Forest.”

Mac Lain wonders what Clemson’s offensive identity will be in 2022 and believes the Tigers should lean on the running game that helped them reel off six consecutive victories last season to reach the 10-win mark for the 11th straight year.

He also thinks the Tigers will benefit from the fact that rising sophomore running back Phil Mafah got the majority of first-team reps this spring, with rising junior Kobe Pace (toe) being held out of practices and rising sophomore Will Shipley (leg) missing most of the spring recovering from his injury.

“It’s going to be interesting, what is that going to be?” Mac Lain said of Clemson’s offensive identity. “Because we saw at the end of the season, when they went on that run to win 10 games, they ran the football – a lot. They used those three running backs, and this spring, Shipley was hurt, Pace was hurt. Mafah was the guy, and I think that without that happening — which you never want anybody injured — but without that happening, the silver lining is Mafah has emerged. Now, it’s a three-headed monster. I mean, give those guys the rock. …

“So, you have to use those guys. But in the same breath, quarterback play is how you win. That’s how you win in college football, that’s how you win in the NFL. And so at the end of the day, D.J. has to take the necessary steps, be more accurate, be more on time, and his wide receivers have to help him. They have to catch the ball. They had a drop rate last year that was the most we’ve seen in a long time from Clemson. So, offensively, got to get it going, got to figure it out. I’m sure they will, but until they show that, you’ve got to think it (the Atlantic Division) is going to be a battle.”

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