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Clemson 2020 Season Review: Special Teams

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Tigers had some good, some bad with special teams in 2020.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past few seasons, special teams have been a relatively weaker spot for the Tigers. Clemson wasn’t meme-ably bad like Alabama kickers, but there was a lot that can be improved on. Let’s look at the good, the bad, and where we go from here.

B.T. Potter.

Potter has continued to be a huge weapon for the Tigers. For the past two seasons, his kickoffs have been a big key to Clemson’s defensive success as he rarely sent one short of the end zone. In 2019, field goal kicking could be a bit of an adventure, as we all remember the pearl-clutching when Dabo let into him after missing a short FG in a blowout of FSU. Potter took a huge step in 2020 to become a better field goal kicker, going from 13-21 (61.9%) in 2019 to 18-23 (78.3%) in 2020. Potter’s biggest game for field goal kicking was probably the loss to Notre Dame in November. As the Clemson offense sputtered early, Potter went 4-for-4, keeping the Tigers in the game when it could’ve gotten out of hand early. Potter’s misses seem to come during more blowout games, almost as if he loses focus when there’s less riding on each kick. Overall, Potter’s a great kicker and a huge asset for Clemson in many ways.

Will Spiers.

Statistically speaking, this was Spiers's best season. His 44 yards per punt average is the best he’s shown in four seasons in Tiger town. Spiers had some pretty solid games, particularly the Syracuse and BC (save for some blocked kicks, which will be addressed later) games where Clemson had some struggles. Spiers has certainly grown and looks more confident than he had in past years. Spiers will be using the NCAA’s COVID waiver to play a fifth year in 2021.

Blocking.

Sheesh, Clemson certainly looked rough up front on special teams. The low point was the win over Miami where the Canes were able to block three of B.T. Potter’s field goals, including running one back for a touchdown before halftime that, at the time, looked like it might keep Miami’s hopes alive before Clemson went on to roll the Canes in the second half. Clemson gave up a blocked punt against Syracuse in a game that was closer at the time than it should’ve been. It seemed like some of the issues were cleaned up as the year went on, but anytime a team blocks three kicks against you it’s disturbing. It didn’t matter against Miami, but giving away three field goals and having one run back for a score can absolutely get you beat.

Returns.

Punt and kick returns also weren’t eye-popping. Amari Rodgers did a solid job of fielding punts, rarely having the opportunity to do more than fair catch. Travis Etienne and Lyn-J Dixon got a few reps to show a little burst on kick returns, but the updated kicking rules have somewhat taken kick return threats out of the game for everyone. It will be interesting if Lyn-J gets the nod for punt returns for 2021.

Going Forward.

The exciting thing is that we may get to see something new with special teams in 2021. Longtime coach Danny Pearman has been moved to an off-field role, thus relieving him of special teams and tight end coaching duties. Safeties coach Mickey Conn will be taking over special teams, so it is unclear what all that will mean for the Tigers. The big thing I want to see Cohn implement is more aggressive punt defense. Clemson has a stable of world-class athletes, so they might as well let some pin their ears back and try to block a punt. During the Sugar Bowl, it would have been nice for Clemson to have tried to go for it on fourth down to slow up the bleeding versus the Buckeyes. Part of the reluctance to go for it was certainly field position and lack of offensive success, but I think it also showed that there wasn’t much in the bag of tricks on special teams. A lot of that comes back on Dabo, sure, but maybe the shakeup in the coaching staff will lead to a bit more innovation with fake kicks. Clemson did some fun things with Christian Wilkins on the punt team, and as I said with blocking kicks, we’ve got the athletes, Let’s do something with them.