CLEMSON – No. 3 Clemson has won 21 of 22 games since the start of 2015, despite the turnover margin working against the Tigers in 40 percent of those contests.
The Tigers have turned the ball over more than their opponent nine times during that span, and yet they’ve somehow lost just one of those games, the 2015 national championship game to Alabama.
“People are going to make mistakes. We’re not professionals,” said Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. “This is not a job. This is college football. We’re all learning. Things like this are going to happen.”
Turning the ball, sure. Teams all over the country do that every week. But they don’t typically win at this high a rate when they do.
Saturday’s 24-17 overtime victory over N.C. State never would’ve come down to a missed field goal in regulation or the extra period had the Tigers not committed four turnovers, including three inside the Wolfpack 25 and one pick-6.
They also had a turnover on downs when they were stopped at the goal line in the third quarter.
“I thought we moved the ball really well. It’s turnovers. That’s the big thing,” said co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott, whose offense racked up 495 total yards. “We’ve got to hold onto the ball. Those are critical errors.
“We’re very fortunate to win the game with those type of turnovers. That’s something we’ll continue to address. Sometimes they’re like drops, they just get a little contagious. You’ve just got to go back to work next week and everybody focus a little more on ball security.”
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In the last two home games against Louisville and N.C. State, which Clemson won by a combined 13 points, the Tigers turned the ball over nine times and lost the margin by two each game.
“We’ve been very, very lucky. Especially in the Louisville game, we put our (defense) in a bind. They had to play over 100 snaps,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “Here, we put them in some situations with field position that wasn’t fair to those guys. We’ve got to take ownership, everyone of us at every position, to pay attention to detail. Where we want to go, that’s unacceptable.”
On the season, Clemson’s 16 turnovers lost is the second most in the ACC, and only four teams in college football have given the ball away more than the Tigers.
“That’s not the formula usually for success,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “We’ve got to get that turned around. That’s for sure."
Swinney is proud of his team for overcoming that and still finding a way to win, but how much longer can they get away with it?
“We’ve still got a lot of ball left and hopefully we can turn that thing around and finish in the positive side of things before the season is over," Swiney said. "That’s certainly a goal of ours.”
The turnovers against N.C. State were of a wide variety. Running back Wayne Gallman fumbled on Clemson’s first drive of the game when he took a hard shot and suffered a concussion that knocked him out of the contest.
To start the third quarter, Watson threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown for the first time in his career.
On the next possession, running back Tyshon Dye put one on the ground trying to go into the end zone for a touchdown to negate another score.
Receiver Mike Williams had a career day receiving, but he fumbled while going out of bounds after a catch, and the Wolfpack picked it up.
“It would be one thing if we had a bunch of three-and-outs and couldn’t move the ball and we had a bunch of drops or something like that,” Scott said. “You’ve got to give N.C. State credit. They’re causing a lot of those turnovers…but we’ve got to do a better job of holding onto the ball and if we do that, we’ve got a chance to be really special.”
Scott said he’s been around offenses that would’ve never recovered from that many miscues, but Clemson survived a missed Wolfpack field goal at the end of regulation and put together a touchdown drive to win in OT.
Elliott says turnovers are the most glaring issue right now, but the Tigers are also allowing too much pressure and too many hits on the QB and not converting on third downs enough. Some of that could be leading to the giveaways.
The team gets extra time now to work on all of that with the bye week, but ball security is something they know must improve when they play Oct. 29 at Florida State.
“Right now, obviously, they’re winning in spite of (turnovers),” Elliott said. “It’s our job as coaches to find out the buttons to push to eliminate that so that we can be who we’re supposed to be.”
Follow Brad Senkiw on Twitter @BradSenkiw_AIM