CLEMSON - While some facets of Clemson's football team have come under scrutiny this season, the special teams has quietly proven to be the most solid unit on the field.
From kicker Aaron Hunt's improvement to the best kick-coverage combination in the conference, the Tigers' special teams have done more than their share in trying to keep Clemson in games.
"We've gotten better there every year," head coach Tommy Bowden said Monday. "I thought in preseason it might. We had a lot of people coming back, and it's been one of our most consistent parts."
It starts with Hunt, who struggled for much of his freshman season a year ago.
But things began to change when he hit the game-winning 25-yarder last year against South Carolina. Hunt followed that up with a 2-for-3 performance against Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl, and the success has followed him into 2001.
Hunt is 8-for-10 on field goal attempts, including a career-long 48-yarder against North Carolina, and is a perfect 30-for-30 on extra points.
The upswing, Bowden said, can be traced back to the kick vs. the Gamecocks.
"I didn't notice (a confidence boost), but common sense would tell you that's the case," he said. "It's got to be a factor. I'm sure making that made his confidence go up, and him making them makes the coach's confidence go up."
But there's more.
Clemson is first in the Atlantic Coast Conference in punt coverage (just 71 return yards allowed on 35 punts) and is second in kickoff coverage. On returns, Clemson is No. 9 in the country on kickoffs and No. 28 on punts.
The kickoff return team received a huge boost Saturday when Derrick Hamilton went coast-to-coast for his first career return touchdown. Officially Hamilton was credited with a 100-yard return, though he fielded the kick at least three yards deep in the end zone.
NCAA rules only allow counting yardage from goal line to goal line.
Regardless of how you add it, Hamilton's return was the first of that distance since John Maxwell went 100 yards for a score against Cumberland in 1903.
The game, a postseason game billed as the "Championship of the South," ended in an 11-11 tie and proved to be the final game as Clemson head coach for the legendary John Heisman.
In other practice news, senior safety Charles Hafley was the only player in a yellow jersey Monday.
Hafley was held out of practice as a precaution because of the pulled hamstring he suffered in Saturday's loss at Maryland. The injury is not expected to keep him out of the South Carolina game this weekend.