ORLANDO, Fla. — It is cliché to say turnovers are the great equalizer in football, especially when one team is loaded with blue-chip recruits. But that’s exactly the case when it comes to third-ranked Clemson.
“When we have had two or more (turnovers), hang on to your hat,” Swinney said on Friday as part of the ACC Championship Game Press Conference at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium.
The Tigers enter Saturday night’s championship Game (8 p.m., ABC) against No. 18 Virginia Tech ranked 71st nationally in turnover margin and ninth in the ACC. Clemson has turned the ball over 23 times this season, and like Swinney indicated, when it does it two or more times, they’ve struggled.
In the seven games Clemson turned the ball over at least twice, it struggled to win. It turned the football over 16 times in close wins over Auburn, Troy, Louisville, NC State and Florida State, and three times in its only loss to Pitt.
“I think it is a positive because we won them. I think there is something to be said for winning close games. I think that builds mental toughness,” Swinney said. “I think we are like 16-3 in our last 19 games in touchdown or less (games). There is a confidence that you can win so you don’t get overwhelmed in critical and crucial situations. You win that moment, you win that play.”
Overall, the Tigers (11-1) went 5-1 in those games, but perhaps they might not have been that close had they just taken care of the football.
“The reason we have been in those types of games, and for good reasons, we have had numerous amounts of turnovers,” Swinney said. “If you look at the close games we had this year, we played Louisville in a close game … that is a pretty good team that has a pretty good player. We had five turnovers and still won. Lamar Jackson had the ball 103 snaps, and five turnovers, and we still won.
“I think that builds confidence that you can beat a team of that caliber and can overcome those types of mistakes. We had four turnovers in the NC State game. We had four possessions, three inside the five and four (overall) inside the 20 where we got zero points. That’s a problem, but we were able to overcome that in all but one game.”
But Clemson does not want to be in that position on Saturday night. Besides the obvious, the Tigers just don’t win, they blow their opponents out. In the six games when it has had one or fewer turnovers, Clemson outscored S.C. State, Georgia Tech, Boston College, Syracuse, Wake Forest and South Carolina by a combined 286-37. They turned the ball over just four times in those six games.
“For us, when we have one or less, we have played at an incredibly high level,” Swinney said.
Like the Tigers, Virginia Tech has had its issues taking care of the football as well.
The Hokies (9-3) rank 11th in the ACC in turnover margin at minus-2 and 77th nationally. They have committed 22 turnovers this year, including 17 fumbles.
When Virginia Tech has won the turnover battle, it’s 6-0 this year and is 1-3 when it does not. The Hokies lost to Tennessee by 21 points, Syracuse by 17 points and Georgia Tech by 10 points when it turned the football over two or more times.
In other words, the team who wins the turnover battle in the ACC Championship Game on Saturday more than likely will win the game.
“It is a big part. It is a huge part of the game for both teams tomorrow night,” Swinney said.