It’s always good to lead the country in something, most of the time. But there are a few statistical categories a sports information department will leave out of the media guide or the game notes.
For No. 4 Clemson that note would be this. The Tigers lead the nation with eight red-zone turnovers. The next closest team has just four. Obviously, it is not a statistic co-offensive coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott will put on their résumés when that day comes to be head coaches.
When looking at this 2016 Clemson offense, for all the good it does, taking care of the football in critical situations is something it has not done very well.
Of the Tigers’ 21 turnovers this season, 38.1 percent of them have come inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
Though quarterback Deshaun Watson understands turnovers in the red zone are an issue, he says it is not the Tigers’ number one concern right.
“There is more than that. That’s the big the picture that everyone sees, but there are little things that we have to correct and fix as an offense and as a team,” he said. “We understand what we can control and what we can fix. We understand all of that stuff. If you do the little things, then all of the big things will take care of itself.”
Clemson, who will play at Wake Forest on Saturday, did not do the little things right against Pitt. Watson threw two red zone interceptions – one in the end zone in the first quarter and another at the goal line in the fourth quarter that was returned 70 yards to set up a Pitt touchdown, changing the momentum of the game and ultimately leading to the Tigers’ first loss of the season.
“When you go back and look at it, and you study it as a coach … Are we being too aggressive? When you look at it, it is really just fundamentals of holding onto the ball and protecting the ball,” Scott said. “A lot of those plays, especially the three fumbles and one of the interceptions, where run in the open field and weren’t really red zone plays.”
Regardless, the Tigers (9-1, 6-1 ACC) turned the football over when they had an opportunity to get more points. In three games this year, Clemson has turned the football over more than once in the red zone. They had three against NC State and two against Louisville and Pitt.
The Tigers rank 92nd in the country in red zone efficiency, again, another stat longtime Clemson sports information director Tim Bourret will not have in his game notes.
Scott said the coaching staff has gone back and looked at every red zone turnover and analyzed exactly what happened and what the calls were.
“We have some plays that are specific red zone throws or red zone plays. They are only for the red zone. None of those turnovers have come during the red zone schemed plays. Do we want to be more efficient down there? Absolutely! There is no question about it. Can we? Absolutely! That’s our goal, and it will continue to be a point of emphasis for us.”