Turnover margin is one of the hardest stats in football to comprehend.
Getting teams to give you the ball can be largely flukey and even cyclical. You'd simply think the best teams in college football force the most because they have the most talented players.
But that's simply not the case. So far this season, Clemson's opponent this Saturday at noon, not the No. 1 Tigers, leads the nation in takeaways. Yep, the 1-4 Syracuse Orange have forced 16 turnovers in 2020, and they are also first in the turnover margin by plus-3 on the next team.
Meanwhile, Clemson's defense ranks a respectable 12th nationally with nine takeaways. The difference between the two teams playing at Memorial Stadium this week is once the Tiger offense gets the ball, it capitalizes. Clemson, which is averaging 48.4 points per game, is outscoring opponents 41-7 in points off turnovers.
Syracuse, meanwhile, has only scored 98 points all season. So what is there to make of these stats?
Well, for starters, Clemson is getting better at forcing them, flukey or not. The Tigers have made huge strides in maturity and development this season on Brent Venables' side of the ball.
And the veteran defensive coordinator hopes that his players knowing more, thinking less and playing faster is a huge reason why the Tigers have intercepted all six of their passes this season in the last three games.
"I think that has a little bit to do with it. You always want to say absolutely yes," Venables said when asked if improvement has led to more takeaways. "When the game slows down you'll be in the right position to play with more discipline. You'll make the layups and sometimes the layups are the throws that are right to you, like Nolan Turner's (against Georgia Tech)."
Venables says when you listen to his coaching, the plays you're supposed to make start happening. It's about being aggressive, but it's hard to play like that if you don't know what you're doing, so Clemson's development has played a huge role. Venables says sometimes it's about the scheme and the call, too.
For the Clemson offense, it's an extra opportunity to go get more points, something it had no issue doing in last Saturday's 73-7 win at Georgia Tech.
Following an early turnover by Travis Etienne, the Clemson defense got one back on Tech's fourth drive of the game. Then after Tiger quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw his first interception of the season, Venables' unit came up with a fourth-down stop for a turnover on downs on the ensuing possession.
"You have a lot of confidence in those guys that you know if something happens, we don't score or we turn it over, with any of those things you just feel more confident that they're going to get a stop," Lawrence said. "We're going to get a chance here in a minute so it's a lot of confidence for us. We can play more free."