While Cade Klubnik’s breakout performance and a strong defensive complement garnered most of the attention in Clemson’s ACC title-clinching victory last weekend, a recent negative turned positive played an equally vital part in the Tigers’ runaway win.
Go back to Oct. 15 when the Tigers won at Florida State, a game in which Tyler Davis recovered a Jordan Travis fumble leading to a second-quarter touchdown that ultimately proved to be the difference in Clemson’s six-point victory. That was the last time Clemson had won the turnover margin.
The Tigers went five consecutive games to end the regular season without doing so, the longest such streak of the Dabo Swinney era. It started with the four-turnover fiasco against Syracuse the following week and continued to plague the Tigers, who dropped two of their final four regular-season games in part because they couldn’t hold onto the ball. Three turnovers against South Carolina, including a pair of special-teams fumbles, was the ultimate gut punch in the turnover department in the Tigers’ first loss to their in-state rival since 2013.
Clemson turned it over 15 times in those five games and had coughed it up three times in three consecutive games heading into the ACC championship bout. Against North Carolina, though, the Tigers finally cleaned up their act.
Even with Klubnik, a true freshman who’d played sparingly this season, directing the offense for the better part of four quarters, Clemson didn’t turn it over against the Tar Heels. Meanwhile, the Tigers forced three of their own, including Nate Wiggins’ 98-yard pick-six in the third quarter.
It all added up to Clemson’s third-largest margin of victory all season. The Tigers were just two points away from tying their most lopsided win, which came all the way back on Labor Day night against Georgia Tech to start the season.
“In all three phases, we did some good things,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Probably played our best game for sure since the Miami game.”
It also helped push Clemson back into the green in the turnover margin on the season at plus-1 heading into its Orange Bowl matchup against Tennessee. The Volunteers, who’ve forced 20 turnovers this season, rank in the top 15 nationally with a plus-9 turnover margin.
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