Coach Swinney defends Branch on allegations of eye-gouging
CLEMSON - The decision regarding which placekicker Clemson will start in Saturday's noon game at N.C. State took care of itself.
Junior incumbent Richard Jackson has relinquished the starting job this week because of an unspecified academic violation, coach Dabo Swinney said Wednesday.
Thus redshirt freshman Spencer Benton will start, "and we'll go from there," Swinney said.
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Clemson missed five kicks in last week's 40-24 victory against Florida State - three extra points and field goals of 26 and 38 yards.
Jackson was responsible for all but one of the extra points, which Benton missed.
"Richard's practiced pretty well," Swinney said. "So hopefully I can get his attention."
Olive branch. SI.com college football columnist Andy Staples called for Swinney to suspend sophomore end Andre Branch after video surfaced of a play in which Branch wrestles with the head of FSU lineman David Spurlock as players dove for a fumble.
Staples concluded that Branch gouged Spurlock's eyes in a similar incident to what led to Florida linebacker Brandon Spikes sitting out last week's Vanderbilt game.
While the footage appeared inconclusive, Swinney said the ACC already reviewed the play earlier this week and the issue was "not even worth talking about." Swinney said he spoke with a prominent official who said he would not have flagged Branch.
"I've seen worse on my 11- and 10-year-old's teams," Swinney said. "It's football, it's a fumble. There was no ill will toward anybody right there. Guy's trying to dive for the ball, he doesn't know where the ball is. No issue there at all. If I thought it was anything of malice, certainly we would deal with it.
"I think we're a hyper-sensitive country. One little thing happens somewhere that was really not right, and then you start dissecting a football game. You're going to see a lot worse than that."
Divide and conquer. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has largely used the nickel defense as his base set, removing a linebacker and incorporating Marcus Gilchrist as a third corner to match up with opposing three- and four-receiver sets.
Both Miami and FSU had success running between the tackles with one fewer defender in the box, and linebacker Brandon Maye expects opponents to continue trying the countermeasure.
"I'm starting to believe that's their answer," Maye said. "That's what they try to do - basically spread us out, try to get us in nickel- and dime-type defenses and try to run the ball."
Youth is served. N.C. State is shuffling its battered and bewildered secondary again and will start a pair of freshman corners against Clemson.
Jarvis Byrd, who has played in two games since coaches decided to remove his redshirt, will start opposite redshirt freshman C.J. Wilson. Wilson is slated to slide over and start at field corner, supplanting senior DeAndre Morgan.
It figures to be the Wolfpack's eighth starting secondary combination in 10 games, presumably a major factor in their pass defense woes. First-year freshman Brandan Bishop is slated to start his sixth game at free safety.
Extra points. Clemson has six touchdowns that have not been scored by its offense this year, tied for second most in school history in a single season. The 1990 team had seven. The Tigers have three kickoff return scores, two punt return touchdowns and one interception return score. ... C.J. Spiller needs 90 all-purpose yards to establish a Clemson single-season record and 298 to become the fifth player in NCAA history to amass 7,000 for a career. ... While fourth on the team in catches, N.C. State 6-foot-3 receiver Owen Spencer is an established big-play threat, averaging a nation's-best 25.6 yards per catch. He has three touchdowns and nine catches of 20 yards or longer.