CLEMSON — Clemson began the season with immense intrigue at quarterback and now starts a crucial final stretch of ACC play with a brand new unwanted mystery.
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When asked if the bye week had produced a clearer picture of the team’s struggling kicking game, coach Dabo Swinney replied, “You’ve got as much clarity on the kicking situation as I’ve got right now, I promise you.”
Just who will take the field as the seventh-ranked Tigers kicker won’t unfold until right up to Saturday’s kickoff with Georgia Tech. Swinney’s description of the tight competition would be humorous if not so crucial to the Tigers finishing with a flourish with North Carolina State and Florida State following the Yellow Jackets on the schedule.
Swinney proclaimed Tuesday that Alex Spence would keep his role if the game was played that afternoon, “but we’ve still got (several practices) and I’m going to watch (game-day) warm-ups. It will be the most-watched warm-ups in the history of kicking, so get there early. I’m going to chart it all the way to kickoff and I have no idea who is going to run out there first.”
Swinney continued, “If we played today it would be Alex. But at some point we’ve got to take it to the game field. I like everybody, it’s not personal, but you’ve got to perform.”
All-ACC kicker Greg Huegel suffered a torn ACL in practice following the team’s Sept. 16 win at Louisville. Spence, a redshirt junior from West Florence with zero career field goal tries in college, beat out junior Christian Groomes (Central) for the crucial starting role.
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Clemson has since added walk-on Drew Costa, a former Bishop England kicker and soccer player.
Spence, a former Shrine Bowler ranked the 34th best kicking recruit by ESPN in 2014, has made just 2 of 6 field-goal attempts with all the misses coming from 43 yards or closer. In the Tigers’ 27-24 upset loss at Syracuse in their last outing, Spence made a 30-yarder, but missed from 35 and 38.
“It’s frustrating because I see Alex do it in practice,” Swinney said. “He’s been awesome since the Syracuse game. He comes out to practice and everybody is getting the same kick, everything’s the same, I don’t want anything different for anybody, and we’re trying to just let them compete their tails off. And I’m just asking them to make the layups. I ain’t even mentioning a 3-pointer, we’re just running layup drills every day. If we can just make some lay-ups we can maybe grow from there.”
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Swinney used another sports analogy when describing the rocky start to former kicker Chandler Catanzaro’s career. He began his career in 2010 making only 9 of 16 before converting 5 of his last 6. The solid ending started the game after he missed two field goals in a 3-point loss to Florida State. He’s now in the NFL.
“We went through this with Catanzaro, who started making those 3-foot putts routinely and eventually his confidence grew from there and hopefully the same will happen for Alex. (Right now) it’s the adrenaline of the moment, just being a young guy in pressure situations, and he’s just kind of got to grow through it. He’s got the ability and is just kind of not focusing on his process and getting more distracted on the outcome.”
This article is written by Eric Boynton from Spartanburg Herald-Journal and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.