Rarely does a punter get much recognition for his role in a team’s victory, but Steven Clark’s performance has not been forgotten.
On Monday, Clark, the Tigers’ punter, was selected as the SEC Special Teams Player of the Week.
“It’s incredible,” said Clark, a sophomore. “You always do your best to try and change the outcome of the game and help the team out. Just to be able to do it so many times, and actually see the good it does, it definitely feels good. We’ve been working on that all week and during the game it actually happened.”
In such a low-scoring game, field position was a huge factor, and Clark did his part to pin the Gamecocks deep.
Clark punted seven times for an average of 37.9 yards per punt, but more importantly had five punts inside the 20-yard line.
South Carolina’s average starting field position was the USC 16 with its possessions starting at the 38, 4, 1, 11, 12 and 12 yard lines following Clark’s punts.
As a result, Auburn’s defense spent much of the afternoon with the majority of the playing field at its back, and the Gamecocks had an extremely difficult time of generating field position.
The Gamecocks managed four plays in Auburn territory.
It was a huge advantage, and one that Auburn defensive coordinator Ted Roof was certainly appreciative of.
“Oh my gracious,” Roof said when asked about Clark’s importance. “What that game was a game of field position with our offense getting all those first downs and staying on the field, and our special forces (teams) doing a great job. We played on a long field most of the night, and that was a big, big factor for our defense.”
Clark’s performance on Saturday was not an isolated one. He leads the SEC and is second in the FBS with 14 punts inside the 20.
“I think people probably will lose sight of the fact of what impact our coverage units have had,” said Auburn coach Gene Chizik. “I’ve watched (Clark) the last two weeks in practice get better and better every day. He’s a classic example of a guy carrying over what he’s getting and improving it in practice, carrying over into the game. Saturday was a very classic example of that with all the punts he put down right where he needed to put them down to win the field position battle.”
Clark split time at punter last season with Ryan Shoemaker, but returned this season as the team’s only punter with experience.
He says learning the finesse aspects of punting has simply taken time and hard work.
“It was definitely a lot of the mental aspect of it I never had to experience in high school,” Clark said. “I played other positions, so I would kind of just get back there and kick it. I never really worried about thinking that much, in different situations, trying to figure out how to relax and the little balance between all that stuff. I’ve been working on trying to get consistency in my form and trying to make good contact with it. That definitely helped a lot.”
Clark said the hard work paid off on Saturday but he also knows he hasn’t arrived. He’s expecting better days ahead.
“I’ve been working on it, and it’s been coming together,” he said. “It’s kind of one of those ‘Ah ha’ moments, where things start falling together. I’ve been doing well in practice. Coach Chizik always says if you start doing it well in practice, it’ll start translating to the games. I think it’s getting there.”