Clemson Football

Clemson bringing all three phases to College Station

September 6, 2018
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It wasn’t perfect by any means. There was lackadaisical downfield blocking on Amari Rodgers’ 62-yard punt return that likely cost the Tigers four points. Will Spiers second punt thudded off his foot and wobbled out of bounds just 29 yards past the line of scrimmage setting up Furman’s only score of the game. B.T. Potter’s fourth kickoff fell short of the end zone. Oh yeah, we haven’t seen the kickoff team have to tackle anyone yet.

Furman had nary a kickoff return on the day, not even when Steven Sawicki relieved Potter and got his first game experience, kicking off twice for touchbacks.

No, it wasn’t perfect, but those were exceptions to the rule Saturday as Clemson’s special teams looked, well, pretty darn special.

Listed in the program at a generous 5-10, 170, Potter’s leg belies his diminutive size.  Six of seven of Potter’s kickoffs were touchbacks, and the other was fair caught at the 1. Furman had nary a kickoff return on the day, not even when Steven Sawicki relieved Potter and got his first game experience, kicking off twice for touchbacks.

Rodgers returned two punts for a total of 87 yards, and while Ray Ray McCloud had a solid year in this role last season (12.1 average on 25 returns, including 77 yarder touchdown at N.C. State), there was an energy about Rodgers returns that made me sit up and say, “Wow!” 

Now if we could get the blockers to block instead of watching Rodgers rumble the Tigers could be on to something.

As for the kickers, Greg Huegel drilled two field goals, the second a challenging 49 yarder, not a chip shot for any college kicker, much less one coming off knee surgery.  The improvement of Alex Spence over the course of last season was encouraging, but Spence isn’t as accomplished as Huegel and there’s little doubt which one gives the Tigers the best chance of putting it through the uprights. 

One game against Furman doesn’t make a season and there’s plenty to work on and plenty of coaching points to be made.  The missed blocks that cost the Tigers 4 points Saturday could cost a game when it’s a different opponent.

The Tigers special teams unit has not been among the nation’s elite in the recent past, and many even believe it cost Clemson the national championship and a perfect season in 2015 when Alabama returned one kick for a touchdown and recovered another on an onsides kick.

The ESPN unit rankings below are not a be all and end all, but they do provide an objective benchmark from which to measure changes, both positive and negatives, and gives us an overall view of how the unit is performing relative to other programs.

Year Ranking
2013 88
2014 121
2015 126
2016 76
2017 84
2018 7

Clemson’s special teams unit was no doubt hurt by Huegel’s 2017 injury, but this is a team that hasn’t been in the top half of these special teams rankings since 2013 (43rd).

One game against Furman doesn’t make a season, and there’s plenty to work on and plenty of coaching points to be made.  The missed blocks that cost the Tigers 4 points Saturday could cost a game when it’s a different opponent.  The punt that gave the Paladins a short field could cost Clemson much more come October and November.  

The atmosphere in College Station will be different than a 12:20 kick against an outmanned FCS opponent and the Tigers will be facing the largest crowd in memory.  

It’s the first real challenge of the season and I’m eager to see if the special teams will be special again-- because this time it could be the difference between winning and losing.

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Clemson bringing all three phases to College Station

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