Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney announced on Thursday placekicker Greg Huegel’s season is over after the redshirt junior tore his ACL at the end of Wednesday’s practice. What does it mean for the second-ranked Tigers going forward?
Losing a kicker at any point is a big deal to any team, but losing one with the kind of experience Huegel has is nearly irreplaceable.
Huegel has been the Tigers’ only placekicker the last two-plus seasons, while making 43 of his 55 attempts. This year, the redshirt junior made just two of his four attempts and had one extra point blocked, but he made his last two kicks against Louisville, including a career-long 49-yard field goal.
During Clemson’s runs to back-to-back national championship game appearances, Huegel has made some pressure kicks. Last year, he was a Lou Groza Award semifinalist, while earning second-team All-ACC honors. He made 14-of-19 field goals and set a new Clemson single-season record with 71 extra points for 113 total points.
In the College Football Playoff in 2015, he was 3-for-4 with a long of 47 yards in the Tigers’ Orange Bowl win over Oklahoma. He also made two kicks in the national championship game that year, including one from 44 yards.
In the Tigers’ national championship season, Huegel made perhaps the biggest kick of his career when he banged through a 46-yard attempt on the road at Florida State, which turned out to be the winning margin of victory. At the time, it gave Clemson a one-point lead with 5:25 left to play. He was 3-for-3 in that game against the Seminoles.
Huegel also made a 45-yard field goal against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.
Though he missed his first two kicks to start this year, Huegel bounced back with his 49-yard field goal just before halftime at Louisville last week. He also made a 31-yard kick earlier in the first half.
“He is such a good young man and has had such a heck of a career,” Swinney said Thursday on Mark Packer’s Show on ESPNU Radio. “He was a walk-on that earned a scholarship and has had three great years for us. He is going to be out, but fortunately he does have another year so he will be able to come back next year and I don’t have any doubt that he will come back better than ever.”
Clemson has a few games this year where it could potentially miss Huegel’s experience. The Tigers have games against ACC Atlantic Divisional rivals NC State and Florida State still on the schedule and their Sept. 30 game at Virginia Tech will not be an easy, either.
The Tigers could potentially need a big field goal in any of those games to pull out a victory.
Swinney said Alex Spence will get the nod to replace Huegel as the Tigers’ starting kicker. Unlike Huegel, Spence does not have a lot of experience. In 2016, he kicked off seven times in a reserve role in wins over S.C. State, Boston College and Syracuse. He did not attempt a field goal.
“We will turn to Alex Spence, who is a redshirt junior. He is also a good kicker, but he has not had the opportunity,” Swinney said. “He lost the job as a freshman when Huegel came in and won it. Now it is his opportunity to step up. What I appreciate about Alex is how he has continued to work so I look forward to seeing him.
“I hate it for Greg, but I’m excited for Alex to have a chance to demonstrate the hard work he has put in and Christian Groomes as well. That is where we are. I think those guys will do a good job for us.”
In 2015, Spence appeared in two games. He made his first career extra point against Wofford in the season opener that year and kicked off once the following week against App. State.
This year, Spence has kicked off the ball twice and neither one was a touchback. Groomes also has two kickoffs this year and one went for a touchback.
In case you are wondering, Huegel kicked off 17 times this season and nine were touchbacks.