Clemson has averaged a ranking of 112th in ESPN’s special teams efficiency over the last three seasons.
And you don’t have to go much further than the national-title game for the effect of a struggling special teams unit in crucial moments, where the Tigers became the only Power 5 team to allow three kickoff touchdowns last season.
Something’s clearly wrong, and the Tigers’ coach is promising fixes.
“I don’t have any doubt that we’re going to be greatly improved,” Dabo Swinney said. “We’re going to be greatly improved. Field goal and punt and kickoff coverage, those are the priorities. Those get you beat ...The return game, you can let the ball lay down and you still get the ball. You give it to No. 4 (Deshaun Watson) and go play. We need to fix certain things.”
What exactly are the issues, and how did they identify them?
“We’ve got a good structure,” Swinney said, “but definitely, we’ve got to improve our kickoff coverage. No question about that. And we need to improve our return game. We put a lot of work into that. A lot of study. A lot of research. Sent off our tape to a couple of people. Spent a whole day with our staff evaluating what we do and how we do it.
“A lot of it was confirmation – a lot of it was, ‘OK, maybe (there's) a new way to do something, teach something, say something.’ Some of it was personnel. Some of it was guys not doing their job. It was a combination of a lot of things.”
The extra emphasis, Swinney maintains, is not all due to the title-game issues. In certain situations, Alabama just made better plays.
“When I evaluate that (kickoff return TD), we were right where we were supposed to be and their guy was better than our guy,” he said. “It’s that simple. I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t have a problem with the other team making a play. That’s football.
“What bothers me is when we bust and it’s an uncompetitive play. Those are the things we’ve got to fix. The onside kick, great call – great play. You execute that maybe two out of 10 times.”
Swinney, who distributes the special teams duties among his assistants and keeps a close eye on it himself, guarantees improvement.