CLEMSON — Most kids who crowd the Death Valley field after Clemson games throw footballs back and forth, darting and weaving and bobbing through crowds. After the Tigers' 45-14 win over Florida State on Saturday, one boy lined up at the 10-yard line, his father planting the ball in the ground.
Heads turned as the boy swung his leg back and crushed the ball through the uprights, and some people raised their arms. Amid the flying footballs and laughter, for a few seconds, all eyes focused on the kicker.
Kickers in football exist in a high risk/reward continuum, the centers of attention for brief, intense moments of time. Clemson sophomore B.T. Potter had been in the situation eight times this season before he missed a 24-yard attempt late in the second half Saturday.
Coach Dabo Swinney unleashed as Potter returned to the sideline, first shouting "Are you kidding me!" then following Potter down the sideline, continuing to yell. Potter was benched in the second half in favor of senior Steve Sawicki, who Swinney said is the new starter.
"That's two easy field goals in a row he's missed," Swinney said, referring to Potter's 40-yard miss against North Carolina in Week 5. "Just felt like, gonna give someone else a chance. (Potter) is easily the most talented guy, he's a great kicker, but sometimes you just got to stay on the sideline a little bit and compete."
Swinney's behavior toward Potter, who is 5 for 9 on field goals and 23 for 23 on extra points this season, attracted some criticism on social media and was picked up by Deadspin. The coach did note that Potter suffered a pulled groin in recent weeks but insisted that wasn't a suitable explanation for the kicker's performance.
"It's not like we're out there kicking 50-yarders," Swinney said.
Potter had converted on all four of his extra-point attempts before the benching, and Sawicki was perfect on three such attempts in the second half in addition to nailing a 26-yard field goal.
Swinney said Potter remains the Tigers' starting kickoff guy, but it will be up to the sophomore to win his place-kicking job back. Sawicki has had limited game experience in his Clemson career, but Swinney credited his accuracy.
Still, Swinney said, Potter has superior leg stength — and has greater potential for the future. He floated the possibility that Potter's struggles could be attributed to a "lack of confidence."
"He is a great kicker, and he will be a great kicker," Swinney said of Potter. "But he's a sophomore, and he's still kind of growing into his role. But at the end of the day, it's a game of performance."