Clemson has to clean up turnovers to contend for national title

Clemson running back Wayne Gallman fumbles for one of Clemson’s four turnovers Saturday against N.C. State.
Clemson running back Wayne Gallman fumbles for one of Clemson’s four turnovers Saturday against N.C. State. USA TODAY

Clemson is still undefeated seven games into the season thanks in large part to some good fortune, but the Tigers have to clean up their turnover issues to become serious national title contenders.

Clemson is one of the worst teams in the country at protecting the football, tied for No. 122 out of 128 teams in turnovers committed with 16.

The Tigers were let off the hook by N.C. State kicker Kyle Bambard on Saturday as he missed two field goals, including a 33-yarder as time expired in regulation, and had another kick blocked in Clemson’s 24-17 overtime win.

While Clemson came out on top over the weekend, the Tigers are unlikely to be as fortunate if they wind up in similar situations later in the year.

“We had a lot of mistakes. You’re lucky to win. Four turnovers, three in the red zone, two on the goal line, is really hard to overcome,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.

“I’ve never been so lucky,” added Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables.

Clemson’s offense continues to pile up yards, although slightly off last year’s pace. The Tigers are averaging 474 yards per game, which is about 40 yards less than they averaged last year.

But the biggest concern is the turnovers. The turnovers aren’t just a one-game issue. Clemson committed five two weeks ago against Louisville, and three in its home opener against Troy.

The 16 turnovers committed by Clemson through seven games are the most for the Tigers since 2008.

“We move the ball really well it’s just turnovers. That’s the big thing,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “We were very fortunate to win the game with those type of turnovers. It’s something that we’ll continue to address. Sometimes they’re like drops. They just get a little contagious.”

Fellow co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott wants his unit to remain confident, but he’s also aware that the likelihood of Clemson continuing to win while playing this sloppy isn’t very good.

“We can’t let that confidence turn into conceit and think it’s always going to be that way. That’s the balance that we have to have,” Elliott said. “We’ve got to stay confident and we don’t want to push them backward to where they start doubting themselves, but we can’t allow them to think that we can continue to win in spite of (mistakes).”

Even with its miscues, the most important stat for Clemson is that it is 7-0.

The Tigers control their own destiny as they look to return to the College Football Playoff, and Venables, who won a national title at Oklahoma, knows that you are going to have to win some ugly, close games to win a title.

“When I was at Oklahoma in 2000, we went 13-0 and the last regular season game of the year Oklahoma State is 3-8 and they’re throwing a fade route. I think we won 12-(7) and they’re throwing it in the end zone on the last play,” he said. “We won the Big 12 championship 27-24. You’ve got to win some of those games. Winning is hard and we’re getting everybody’s best shot.”

No one’s best shot has been good enough yet, but if Clemson keeps playing with fire, eventually it is going to get burned.