No. 4 Clemson hopes to come out of its bye week with a better grip on the football — and its growing worries about turnovers.
The Tigers (7-0, 4-0 ACC) have 16 turnovers (eight fumbles, eight interceptions), the second highest total in the Atlantic Coast Conference. While the mistakes haven’t cost them in the standings, they’ve certainly caught the attention of Clemson coaches.
Clemson is 54th nationally in turnover margin, trailing 10 teams with losing records.
“It’s unfortunate that it’s costing us points,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said Monday. “But we’ve just got to get back in the batter’s box and take the next swing.”
Clemson had four turnovers in its heart-stopping, 24-17 overtime win against North Carolina State, including two within 5 yards of the end zone.
The Wolfpack had the first pick-six of quarterback Deshaun Watson’s career, then forced a pair of fumbles near their goal line to spoil drives of 78 and 39 yards.
Instead of having a comfortable lead, the Tigers were in a dogfight and only escaped after North Carolina State kicker Kyle Bambard missed what would’ve been a winning 33-yard field goal try as time expired.
Clemson made mistakes last year (27 turnovers in 15 games), but not like this, Swinney said. But in 54 trips inside its opponent’s 20 yard line last year, the Tigers had just one turnover.
“This year in seven games, we’ve got six turnovers in the red zone,” Swinney said. “That’s why we’ve had a couple of close ball games. It is what it is.”
Clemson will get some time to correct its issues during its bye week. The Tigers return to the field at No. 13 Florida State on Oct. 29, a contest that could go a long way to clinching a second consecutive trip to the ACC title game for the Tigers.
Clemson has struggled in Tallahassee, Florida, though, going just 1-11 since 1993. Swinney and the Tigers understand turning the ball over won’t help them win there for the first time since 2006.
“Sometimes, they’re like drops, they just get a little contagious,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “You’ve just got to back to work and everybody lock in a focus on the ball security.”
The real shame of the errors, Swinney said, is that it spoiled the look of one Clemson’s better offensive performances of the season. The Tigers had five drives of 64 yards or more against North Carolina State. Watson threw for a season-high 378 yards while Williams finished with a career best 12 catches for 146 yards.
“Offensively, it’s one of the best games we’ve had,” Swinney said. “One three and out, good rhythm all day. Just left a lot of points out there, a lot of points.”
The coach said more importantly was his players’ continued ability to dig deep when faced with problems and figure out how to win.
“I think we need to focus on the positive here,” Swinney said.
There are plenty of them, too. Clemson has played the toughest part of its schedule and remained undefeated. Even slipping a spot in the rankings to No. 4 should not spoil the Tigers potential playoff spot if they remain perfect.
If Clemson can survive Florida State, it will be heavy favorites to stay perfect against its four remaining opponents in Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Wake Forest and South Carolina.
Clemson will put in the work to improve, Swinney said, players reminded to hold onto the ball and work on things like tucking it close to their bodies and tightening their grip in traffic.
“I don’t have any doubt,” Swinney said. “That we’ll get it fixed.”
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