The trend in Clemson’s two losses this year was glaring: six turnovers against South Carolina and four against Florida State.
“You sit and preach it, and you coach it, and you talk it all the time,” said Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris. “At some point, you’ve just got to take care of the football.”
Now would be the time.
No. 12 Clemson hasn’t played a solid game against a ranked opponent since the season-opener against Georgia, and much of that has to do with the alarming rate the Tigers have turned the ball over. The South Carolina game was a disaster with three fumbles and three interceptions, each seemingly more unbelievable than the last. They’ll have a chance to redeem themselves in the Discover Orange Bowl game against No. 7 Ohio State, a one-loss team good enough to take advantage of Clemson’s mistakes. Clemson enters the game having turned the ball over more this year (22) than it did through last year’s regular season (19).
“They’re just so sound in everything they do,” Morris said of the Buckeyes. “We’ve just got to play well and don’t beat ourselves. That’s the deal in our two losses this year. We turned the ball over, and special teams turned the ball over. Those are things you just can’t do to give yourself a chance.”
Clemson was 6-0 and ranked No. 3 in the country heading into the Oct. 19 game against Florida State. A big reason for that success was the fact that the Tigers were No. 4 in the country in turnover margin at that time. They had a 56-0 advantage on the opposition in terms of points off turnovers.
The Florida State game changed that stat quickly.
The Seminoles scored 24 points off turnovers in the 51-14 win. It was just as bad against South Carolina. In what was Clemson’s fifth straight loss to the Gamecocks, South Carolina won points off turnovers 21-0.
The difference has been glaring, as Clemson had 10 turnovers in its two losses and just 12 in its 10 wins this year. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is 32-3 at Clemson when the Tigers win the turnover margin statistics.
Much of the pressure to improve the turnover margin falls on quarterback Tajh Boyd, who finished his career having thrown five picks in four games (and been sacked 19 times) against South Carolina.
“I think Tajh needs to play well,” Morris said. “After coming off of the South Carolina game, I think he needs to play well. He had a great bowl performance last year against LSU. I think he’s done a good job to this point. Obviously we have about nine more practices to get him ready. He’s a competitor.”
The good news for Clemson is that Boyd has rebounded from a poor performance in a loss to South Carolina before. In 2012, Boyd threw two picks against the Gamecocks and Clemson lost 27-17. He responded with one of the best performances of his career in a win over No. 8 LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. That win was a turning point for the program, one that catapulted the Tigers into the national title talk all offseason and was further boosted by the win over Georgia.
Since then, though, Clemson has failed to deliver on the big stage.
The Tigers have already turned over two big opportunities. This is their chance to hang onto a third.