Yes, Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins was missed sorely in the lineup this past weekend against NC State, especially in the second half when the Tigers were playing from behind and lacked a true vertical threat to help close the gap.
Watkins’ absence because of a shoulder injury, though, was not the reason Clemson lost the game.
Four turnovers had a little something to do with it.
There is a trend in Clemson’s offensive slide in each of the past three games, and it has nothing to do with Watkins or his shoulder. The Tigers now have 11 turnovers in the past three games after having just eight in the first eight games. Clemson is 1-2 in those games, with the lone win coming on a last-second field goal against Wake Forest. The turnovers have caused a snowball effect, and as Clemson prepares to face rival South Carolina on Saturday, it does so not only looking to play with better ball security, but also with more confidence.
“I don’t think we’re going backwards,” offensive coordinator Chad Morris said, “I don’t think we’re taking care of the football. By us not taking care of the football, we’ve lost some confidence along the way. We’re not playing with the confidence level we had four weeks ago. We’re not doing that right now.
“It’s not that someone has come out and is doing anything different against us. It’s not. We’re not making good decisions with the football.”
Quarterback Tajh Boyd, who earlier this season was in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy, has thrown six interceptions in the past three games. The Tigers had four turnovers in the Oct. 29 loss to Georgia Tech. There is no mystery behind what has happened to this team -- it’s right there in black and white. That could be a problem this weekend against the Gamecocks, who are tied for No. 17 in the country in fumbles recovered with 12. Clemson has lost 10 fumbles this season, and South Carolina’s defense has been its strength this year.
Morris said that every fumble Clemson gives to the opponent, the Tigers lose eight to 10 snaps per game from their offense. In order to get back to executing the base offense well, Morris said his players have to quit pressing so hard. The Tigers haven’t defeated South Carolina in each of the past two seasons and need to regroup before heading into the ACC championship game.
“We have to get our confidence level back,” Morris said. “We need a spark. We need something, someone, somebody -- whether it’s Tajh, Dwane [Allen], Nuke [Hopkins], Sammy -- somebody to give us that spark.”
Watkins is expected to return to the lineup this weekend, and that alone could be the spark the Tigers need.
It won’t, however, be enough to win if Clemson continues to lose the turnover battle.