MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The two biggest receptions of Thursday night’s game were made by a 315-pound defensive tackle who does standing backflips for fun and a 175-pound former walk-on receiver who makes the waterboy look buff by comparison.
(Aren’t you glad we all made a big deal out of the Deon Cain suspension?)
Greg Huegel, who has granted hope to grocery store employees with great athletic aspirations even though he’s never worked at a grocery store, made all three first-half field goals. He also handled extra points and kickoffs without issue.
(Aren’t you glad we all made a big deal out of the Ammon Lakip suspension? Well, maybe not “we all.” Probably just that moron Post and Courier beat writer.)
Sports are great because they’re sports, and sports are unpredictable. Sure, you can predict the outcomes and, by rule, have a 50-50 chance of success. But try to predict how it happens, and you might as well buy yourself a lottery ticket because anything is possible.
Anything, even defensive tackles making a mockery of what science and evolution dictate defensive tackles should be able to do athletically. Christian Wilkins, a cement truck of a man who on Dec. 20 turned 20 but looks and plays like he’s 30, has served as the personal punt protector all season long, mainly because even the most brutish of football players would be foolish to dare try to get up in Andy Teasdall’s grill with Wilkins serving as the bouncer.
When Oklahoma had the momentum rolling its way, Clemson called “UConn.” That’s a play residing in its back pocket all season long, a nod to Wilkins’ hailing from Connecticut, asking Wilkins to run a wheel route and Teasdall to throw it to him in what is actually a fake punt attempt ... you know, as opposed to whatever that was in the ACC title game.
(Side note – not to self-back-pat or anything, but I joked at a dinner leading up to the Orange Bowl Clemson should attempt a fake punt because Oklahoma would never expect it. Oklahoma never expected it.)
“I know people were probably thinking, oh, no, no, he’s not doing it again,” Wilkins said. “But then he got me the ball, so it’s all good. It was up there for a little while. I was thinking, when is that thing going to come to me?”
Teasdall threw a fine enough ball, but either the pass or Wilkins’ route had the big boy out of position. Wilkins contorted his body, stayed agile on his feet – remember, the kid weighs 315 pounds – and made a basket catch for a gain of 31 yards to keep the chains moving. Clemson was in the end zone two plays later.
“We just threw that in before the game. No, I’m just kidding,” Wilkins said. “We work on fake punts every Wednesday, and we had to get down the details and everything. We knew what they did on their safe punt that we would have that option.
Believe this: midway through the second quarter, Teasdall was 1-for-1 for 31 yards throwing the ball. Deshaun Watson was 2-for-8 for 22 yards, because sports.
Watson’s biggest completion did put the game out of reach. Dancing out of the pocket to his right, Watson threw a fastball to Hunter Renfrow, who was merely a cute fall camp story three and a half months ago before he caught a touchdown pass at Louisville. Renfrow, who was being manned by Oklahoma’s top corner Zack Sanchez, gripped the ball, spun around and saw Sanchez slip to the turf, letting Renfrow jog into the end zone for the biggest touchdown catch of his life until now.
“Deshaun threw it with kind of a late reaction, the DB didn’t see it, so it worked out,” Renfrow said. “I looked back, and I was scared someone was going to catch me. But it’s fun being part of the team and helping the team win.:
And how about Huegel, whose name was pronounced “you-GELL” throughout the night by the somewhat dimwitted public address announcer in Sun Life’s Stadium’s cramped press box? It’s pronounced “HUE-gull” – “I’ve gotten Huay-gull, Hi-gull – never gotten you-GELL, that’s a new one,” he sheepishly told me in the locker room – but however you say it, it’s the name of the kid with more field goals than any other kicker in Clemson single-season history, with 25.
Huegel, still brandishing those neon-green cleats (he’s worn them since high school, and refused a free pair outfitted to him in college), hadn’t tried an extra point in a game since missing his fifth of the season Nov. 28. He was 4-for-4 Thursday. He also hadn’t kicked off in a game since September. He kicked off eight times for four touchbacks and four inconsequential returns.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say I adjusted the last two days, because whenever I messed up, I knew I had to get this mental thing down,” Huegel said. “I hadn’t taken a full swing in a while, just because I didn’t want to tire my leg out. It felt good to do them in a game again.”
The team’s unofficial anthem is “We Too Deep,” which is not a cliché. It really works in Clemson, where a former All-American and record-setting passer (Tajh Boyd) can gleefully celebrate on the field with sophomore Deshaun Watson, who’s already arguably the most prolific player in school history. (Arguably.) Where Shaq Lawson goes down in the first quarter, and you hardly notice because Austin Bryant goes in and plays well while Kevin Dodd stays in and plays lights-out. Where Mike Williams gets hurt in September and Lakip gets suspended in July and Lakip and Cain each get suspended Tuesday and it just doesn’t matter because walk-ons like Renfrow and Huegel come out of the woodwork to make an impact.
Soon, there will be Clemson-Alabama coverage to write and read. (If ya hadn’t heard, the Tigers’ head coach might have some ties to the opponent.) Soon, the Tigers will cry disrespect because they’re 14-0 and the No. 1 team in the country and Alabama is a touchdown favorite and, well, frankly, the Tigers would have it no other way. Soon, we will break down the Tide vs. the Tigers with their styles in contrast both in schematics and in atmosphere, and report from the ground in the desert of Arizona.
Before all that? Don’t forget to close your eyes, revel in what Clemson has done, and dream of one more magical win. Because in sports, anything is possible.