Swinney has no clarity in "frustrating" kicking situation


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Alex Spence is just 2-for-6 since taking over for Greg Huegel
Alex Spence is just 2-for-6 since taking over for Greg Huegel

CLEMSON – Who will kick for Clemson Saturday night? It might be a game-time decision after head coach Dabo Swinney watches the players warm up.

Seventh-ranked Clemson starts a big three-game stretch against conference opponents Saturday against Georgia Tech, and each game will be a deciding factor in whether Clemson plays for another ACC Championship.

They head into Saturday’s game with a problem at placekicker – starter Greg Huegel is out for the season and backup Alex Spence is just 2-for-6 on field goals since Huegel went down. During last week’s off week, Swinney brought in a senior student named Drew Costa to see if Costa could provide a spark.

Five days before kickoff, there are no answers.

"You have as much clarity on the kicking situation as I've got right now, I promise you. It's frustrating. Obviously, that was a big loss losing (Greg) Huegel,” Swinney said Tuesday. “It's just frustrating because I see Alex Spence do it in practice. He's been awesome since the Syracuse game. He comes out to practice and I'm tracking everything. Everybody is getting the same kick and everything is the same. Everybody has to have the same everything and I don't want anything different for anybody. We're trying to let them compete their tails off.”

Swinney said he isn’t asking the kickers to make 54-yarders – just make the ones they’re supposed to make.

“I'm just asking him to make the layups. I'm not even interested in a three-pointer,” he said, using a basketball analogy. “Let's just make the layups. We're just running layup drills every day. If we can just make some layups, maybe we can grow from there. Right now ,today, Alex is still out in front but we still have Tuesday practice, Wednesday practice, Thursday practice and I'm going to watch them in warmups. It'll be the most-watched warmups in the history of kicking warmups. Get their early. I'm going to chart it all the way til kickoff. I have no idea who will run out there first. If we played today, it would be Alex. At some point we have to take it to the game field. I like everybody. It's not personal, but you've got to perform.”

Costa and Christian Groomes are both competing with Spence for the spot.

“He's (Costa) doing great. Every day he's extending his contract,” Swinney said. “He's getting to eat meals now. Walk-ons get to eat so that's good. He's loving life. We're going to give him some gear this weekend. He's really done a good job. He's got a live leg.

“Christian has done fine, too. Christian is right there, too, but Alex is still out front from practice. Again, at some point, we've got to get the performance on the field and go from there, so we'll see.”

Kickers are known for being flaky, and Swinney said he has to learn how to motivate a different kind of player.

"Yes. Kickers are not guys who played linebacker,” he said. “They're usually a little different. You have to figure out how to best communicate with them. Milt (team psychologist Milt Lowder) does a good job with that, but at some point, that has to get out of the way too and let's get the job done. If not, let's go to the next guy and give somebody else a chance.”

Swinney said he thinks Spence can be a difference-maker once he makes a few adjustments.

"Just some technical things and just the moment - the adrenaline of the moment and just being a young guy in pressure situations. You just have to grow through it,” Swinney said. “He has the ability. It's not focusing on his process and getting more distracted on the outcome. We went through this with Chandler Catanzaro - a young guy who had all of the talent in the world but didn't show up on game day. Eventually, he worked himself out of that and started making those three-foot puts routinely and eventually grew his confidence. Hopefully, the same thing will happen with Alex.

“When you put drives together and get down to the 20 and can't come away with points. To be a great red zone team, you have to have an athletic quarterback, be able to run the football and you've got to be able to win matchups and you've got to make field goals. It really hurts you when you put drives together against good people and you get down there and don't come away with points. It's deflating for your offense and inflating to their defense. Momentum is a big part of the game. Then you start pressing. You want to be able to count on those. You don't have to be perfect but we've got to be in that 90 percent in the red zone.”

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