In the preseason, most pundits would have expected the Clemson offense to be the playoff contender’s most consistent unit.
Outside of the No. 3 Tiger offense’s ups and downs, Clemson’s special teams holding that distinction may be the biggest surprise this late in the season.
The group was rated No. 126 out of 128 teams by ESPN’s efficiency metrics last year, but they’ve improved to No. 45 in the same stat through eight games – No. 4 nationally in opposing kickoff returns currently after giving up three touchdowns in 2015.
Saturday night in Tallahassee, FSU’s longest kickoff return was 22 yards, and they were held without a return attempt on punts.
On field goals, Clemson sophomore Greg Huegel hit all three attempts, including his second-longest of the season (46 yards) to take a fourth-quarter lead.
“It was one of our best games (on special teams),” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We made a lot of big plays on defense, and so did they. We made a lot of plays on offense and so did they, but I thought we made the difference on special teams.
“Three big field goals. Our protection was tremendous. We pinned them inside the 20 twice. … Our kickoff coverage was just awesome – just tremendous. Just pleased with what we’re doing in that area.”
Elsewhere after film review, Swinney identified big plays, including issues on edge, as problems for the Tiger defense, counting Clemson as “just really fortunate to overcome it.”
“The big plays and the penalties really kept them in the game,” he said. “We’ve got to do a better job in cleaning up the technique and when those competitive plays come – win them.”
Offensively, the Clemson coach was disappointed with penalties and busts, but said the group did “a lot of good things” and “competed.”
“We’ve got three of the next four at home starting this week and hopefully as we get rolling into this month of November, we can start playing our best football,” Swinney said.
Who: Syracuse (4-4, 2-2 ACC) at Clemson (8-0, 5-0)
When: 3:30 p.m., Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium
Line: Clemson by 26