Clemson's defense receives a bulk of the team's praise, and rightfully so. Through three games, the Tigers rank seventh in the nation in total yards allowed per game (223), 16th in rushing yards allowed per game (91), 14th in passing yards allowed per game (132) and 10th in points allowed per game (10).
But the stat nobody talks about is Clemson's opponents' average starting field position after a punt — their own 17-yard line.
It's about time to give redshirt freshman punter Will Spiers a little credit.
Entering Saturday's game against Boston College, the Calhoun Academy graduate has sent 11 punts an average of 46.5 yards, good for 12th-best in the country; he won't take any credit for it though.
“My mindset’s just to go out there and do the best that I can, and just trust my punt team that they’ll go down there and cover the returner," he said. "They’ve been doing a great job of that all year. I can’t give enough credit to them for that.”
Spiers was named the ACC Special Teams Player of the Week after his performance against Louisville; he averaged 51.8 yards on four punts, pinning the Cardinals at their own five-yard line on his first two attempts.
The former walk-on was the Tigers' escape artist when they failed to get out of their own side of the field in two of their first three drives. You don't want to start slow when playing against a Lamar Jackson-orchestrated offense, but Clemson's defense was able to keep the Cardinals in check throughout the contest.
A big reason why: Louisville's average starting position after a punt was its own 10-yard line.
“I would like to pin them deep (every time), but honestly I just go out there with the mindset to hit the best ball possible," he said. "My job is to give our defense the best chance to make it as hard as possible for the offense to score, and pinning them deep is a big emphasis in any game.”
The former walk-on really made his presence known in Clemson's Sept. 2 game against Auburn, when he punted six times — four of which landed inside Auburn's 20-yard line. The SEC Tigers' average starting field position after a punt was their own 20, and it would've been their own 16 had Stephen Roberts not returned Spiers' final punt of the game 25 yards to Auburn's 45-yard line.
Over the course of this young season, Clemson has focused on each unit complementing, rather than compensating for, one another. So when it comes to the relationship between defense and special teams, think of the Lob City Clippers.
Yes, the defense deserves credit for the finishing drives a la Blake Griffin at the rim, but don't forget about how the ball got there.
“Special teams is a big part of (our success)," said defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. "Shoutout to the kickoff team because they did a great job of getting down there, shoutout to Will Spiers, he did a really good job giving those things a ride. You got to really play complementary football, that’s what makes good teams really good.
"Offense might not have a great drive, but if special teams can put the defense in a great spot, it’s easier to play off that.”
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney — who surprised Spiers with a scholarship after the Tigers' practice on Aug. 21 — said he came into his first camp an "all-around athlete."
He definitely wasn't a punter, though.
"He wasn’t a punter, he just was the guy who went out and punted it," Swinney said. "He didn’t have any coaching, no training, he wasn’t a guy who just punted all the time. He redshirted last year and really worked on his craft. He has really, really worked really hard to become a punter, to become a technical guy. I’m just really proud of him because he’s got a great mindset that you love to see out of your specialist, and his confidence is really high right now.”
You'd like to think punters know what they're getting themselves into when they commit to the position. Just like offensive linemen, kickers or fullbacks, punters are generally only known to the public when they mess up or do something highlight-worthy — a big hit during a return, a pancake block, etc.
These specialists are expected to be perfect; if you've ever yelled, "you have one job!" after a missed field goal or shanked punt, my point is proven. If you haven't, let me know on Twitter. I'll publicly put my foot in my mouth.
The high-expectation-rare-acknowledgment life just comes with the territory for the most underappreciated player on any given football team.
“It’s definitely something that’s important because that’s hidden yardage," Swinney said. "Your defense feels good about getting a stop, now all of a sudden you run your offense out there, and you’re inside the five-yard line, because the guy just launched one 60 yards … He’s a weapon, and he’s just going to get better.
“When it’s all said and done, I think he can be one of the best we’ve had here.”
Marcel Louis-Jacques,Greenville New