Cutting Down Those Turnovers

Last season, Clemson finished 90th in Division I-A football in turnovers, and the end result was somewhat predictable- a 7-5 season culminating in a Humanitarian Bowl game against Louisiana Tech. How can the Tigers improve their turnover ratio this season?


They can often make or break a team and it's season. Look no further than last season for proof of that very statement.

The Tigers, driving down the field, leading Virginia by 5 points with time winding down in the 4th quarter, lost the ball when quarterback Woody Dantzler was nailed on a blind side blitz at the Virginia 40-yard line.

The Cavs promptly drove down the field and scored the winning touchdown with 1 second remaining in the game. "If I hadn't fumbled that ball, they never would have gotten the ball back," said Woodrow Dantzler afterwards. "We would have moved on down the field, and we'd be sitting in the locker room cheering instead of with a look of despair on our face."

The play wasn't just Dantzler's fault. The call was somewhat of a risk considering all the Tigers had to do win the game was hold onto the football for just several more minutes. But, with Dantzler backed up 6 yards behind the line of scrimmage, directly looking to his right side, he was unable to see the blitzing cornerback.

"They blitzed the corner off the back side," said Brad Scott. "We just let the ball get away from us. It was not a good call, obviously, but we want to hold onto the ball in that situation.

All the Tigers had to do was line up in the I-formation and run the ball right up the throat of the defense. Do that and Clemson begins the year 3-0, instead of 2-1.

Fast forward seven games to Columbia. The Tigers enter the game needing a win to lock up a bowl berth, and coming off thrashings to Maryland and Florida State, Tommy Bowden knew that his team needed to win the turnover battle to beat the Gamecocks. "I think this game will come down to defense #1 and turnovers #2. The key for us will be to not turn the ball over and then get some on defense," said Bowden beforehand.

Facing a 4th-and-1 in Gamecock territory, the Tigers lined up in a goaline formation with everybody in Williams-Brice stadium thinking a fullback dive. Instead, the Tigers gambled with play-action, and although Travis Zachery streaked wide open downfield, Woodrow Dantzler hung up a pass just long enough for Sheldon Brown to record his first interception of the year.

"Had we got it, we might have won," Bowden would later say. "You get to call that play about twice a year. It was the perfect time. We just didn't execute."

Call it a back-breaker, call it a momentum-breaker, call it whatever you want, but that play likely sealed the Tigers' fate that November afternoon. And while it is hard to blame two losses in a season on two specific plays, the case could easily be made that the Tigers could have won two more games last year had those two scenarios against Virgina and South Carolina turned out differently.

"You take away just two turnovers, not a better game, not a better anything else- one against Virginia, one against South Carolina- and you've got nine wins on a team that didn't have anybody drafted," Bowden said in an interview last week with the Greenville News.

That being said, what can be done to prevent these type of situations this season? The answer to that question is really comes in two-parts.

Part one, is practice. During practice, both the running backs and wide receivers will run through a "gauntlet" of defensive players trying to strip the football out of their hands. The players who fumble have to stay after practice and do recovery drills.

And at quarterback, Willie Simmons has been constantly instructed to throw the football away instead of trying to turn something into nothing with an errant pass. Simmons did improve in that department this past spring, but he still must show it on gameday.

Part two, is play calling. The Tigers enter a year where they have more skill at every position on offense than any other team to run down the hill in recent memory. The trickery that has been needed in the past, won't be needed this year.

4th-and-1 at the opponent's 32-yard line? Send in Aaron Hunt. He's proved his worth over the course of the last two seasons. Or what about some good old fashion smash mouth football? Surely Chad Jasmin can pick up a first down in short yardage situations. Why risk it by going for it all?

Defensively, the answer is to create more turnovers. After all, Clemson was tied for 101st in country in takeaways last year.

New defensive coordinator John Lovett has instilled a new attacking philosophy in this defense- one which priortizes making the big play. Gang tackling, and having players stripping the football are just two areas that he'll have his defense focused on once practice starts.

"The more people you get around the football, the more productive you can be as a defense," Lovett said. "Somebody's got to get the guy down on the ground, and the rest of the guys need to help create turnovers."

Simply put, turnovers are the name of the game this season when the Tigers take the field. Winning the turnover battle will be one of the single most important elements in determining who wins and who loses. Tommy Bowden knows it, John Lovett knows, and the entire Clemson fan base knows it. Top Stories