TAMPA, Fla. – Avoiding turnovers is important in any football game. For Clemson facing Alabama in Monday night’s national championship game, it’s imperative.
The Crimson Tide leads major-college football in non-offensive touchdowns. Alabama has scored 15 times this season without the offense being on the field. Next best in that category is Ohio State with seven.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has hammered this week on how essential ball-security and precise special-teams play will be to his Tigers.
“If they don’t score on defense or special teams, we’ve got a really good chance,” Swinney said this week of the title-game rematch with Alabama. “When they can do that, it’s a very difficult animal to deal with.”
Clemson’s performance this season is a mixed bag in that regard. The Tigers are turnover-prone: They have lost nine fumbles and quarterback Deshaun Watson has thrown 17 interceptions.
However, only one Watson interception resulted in a return for a touchdown (vs. N.C. State). Watson threw two interceptions against Ohio State in the national semifinal, but neither resulted in points in a 31-0 Clemson victory.
Swinney said the difference between Alabama and most defenses is how automatically they convert into offensive players.
“Guys are blocking quick. They expect it to happen. That mentality has been ingrained into them,” Swinney said. “Fifteen (turnovers returned for scores) is just unbelievable.”
Clemson allowed one long kickoff return this season, with Ohio State’s Parris Campbell advancing the kick 54 yards. But, again, that field position on Clemson’s side of the 50-yard line resulted in no points.
Clemson had many shaky moments last season on special teams. Swinney brought in consultants on special-teams play over the summer to help tighten up performance.
“We studied some new things, we spent a lot of time and got the personnel the way we needed it to be” Swinney said. “We played a lot of freshmen (on special teams) last year. We’ve just got the right people doing the right things.”
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