7 at 7: Turnovers matter, and a Carolina prediction

Clemson running back Wayne Gallman (9) breaks free. The Clemson Tigers played host to the South Carolina Gamecocks at Memorial Stadium in Clemson Saturday, November 29, 2014. Gwinn Davis / Special to the Post and Courier

CLEMSON – In this final 7 at 7 of the offseason – college football kickoff is mere hours away – here’s a wrap-up of a few notes and quotes from the week that was leading up to Wofford-No. 12 Clemson:

1) The turnovers committed by the national champion have increased three consecutive years, in dramatic fashion.

Alabama had a mere 12 turnovers in 2011, and 15 in its defense year of 2012. Florida State had 18 in 2013, averaging about one and a quarter cough-ups a game.

Only 17 Division I teams had more turnovers than Ohio State’s 26 last year. Granted, the Buckeyes played 15 games – one more than all champs for the past decade – but still, that’s almost two a game. No bueno.

Anyway, for all of Clemson’s offensive shortcomings last year, turning it over wasn’t necessarily one of them. The Tigers only committed 18 turnovers last year, which was right at the team goal as outlined by head coach Dabo Swinney, who said 18 is “the national championship caliber” for a season.

“We hope to be right around that, or less,” Swinney said.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson, in his limited college time on a game field, has displayed mostly smart decisions with the football. Ball security has been an emphasis with the running backs during been fall camp; according to Swinney, save for one “poor” stadium scrimmage, that’s been successful.

“Nobody works harder at the fundamentals and techniques of ball security than (offensive coordinator Tony Elliott,” Swinney said. “And it reflects in the backs.”

2) It’s difficult to discern exactly which freshmen or rising backups are worth the chatter, since, well, almost all of them get praised over the course of the offseason.

Do keep an eye on freshman tailback C.J. Fuller, who is reported by Elliott and a couple linemen to be hard to tackle, explosive, articulate, sees his lanes well and, per Elliott, “sticks his face in the fan in pass protection.”

“Everything I’ve asked him to do, he’s done,” Elliott said. “You wouldn’t expect him to be as far ahead in pass protection as a redshirt freshman, so that’s where he’s impressed me the most.”

3) Whoops. I politely asked Swinney if he’d consider keeping things pretty vanilla on offense the first two games, since those two games don’t help him win the ACC and the third game is against one of the better year-to-year defenses in the country in Louisville. You know, don’t show your cards, and all that?

Silly me should have known better.

“No, we’re just doing what we gotta do to win,” said Swinney, not a poker player. “The last thing on my mind is somebody down the road. I’m focused on trying to get to 1-0. That’s the way it better be for everybody.

“We’re dialed in on playing our best each and every week. It’s gotta be that way. We’re not trying to preserve anything; we just want to have a great gameplan, execute that gameplan and go on to the next one.”

4) Junior linebacker Ben Boulware wanted to improve his conditioning, in order to play 60-70 snaps a game and not fatigue.

“One thing I harped on, I wanted to do something different every day,” Boulware said. “Every time we did any type of lifting, I’d wear a 15-pound weight vest. I knew I had to do something different to separate myself from everybody else.”

5) This shows, again, how Boulware’s one of the more honest quotes on the team. He was asked Monday about how there were – and I quote – “lots of storylines about individual players” who have been suspended or dismissed or left the team for undetermined periods, and is that bringing the team together, Ben?

Boulware thought for a moment, and basically said, no, it hasn’t made a difference either way. As part of his answer: “Of course, the outside attention is because of what the team is doing…”

Ding, ding, ding. A player absolving the media of scrutiny on the basis of doing their jobs? Brownie point for Mr. Boulware.

6) Grady Jarrett was the auto-starter last year at nose guard; his co-starter dithered between DeShawn Williams, Josh Watson and D.J. Reader, usually determined between Thursday night’s practice and Saturday morning’s pregame.

At least for now, while Reader is away from the team, it’ll be the same situation involving sophomore Scott Pagano and true freshman Christian Wilkins, next to junior Carlos Watkins.

“We’ll talk about it more as a staff (Thursday), when it’s our last staff meetings and we’ll talk about specific things, how we’re going to rotate guys,” Swinney said. “Like last year, we never really knew who was going to start at tackle until after Thursday’s practice because literally every rep counts because the competition was so tight.”

Staying within the front seven: Kendall Joseph and Jalen Williams took second-team reps this week with the linebackers, behind B.J. Goodson and Boulware.

7) A score prediction for tonight: North Carolina 34, South Carolina 30. I do think Steve Spurrier will have his Gamecocks ready for a solid season, and certainly is capable of squeezing 8-9 wins out of a team that nobody thinks will win 8-9 games – that’s what good coaches do. But while Jon Hoke likely turns the defense around (and hey, it couldn’t get worse), South Carolina doesn’t have a player like Marquise Williams, who might have a sort of mini-Tajh impact in 2015.

-AB