Clemson winning ugly, but still winning

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Clemson has five wins by seven points or less and a negative turnover ratio on the season. But right now the only thing that matters to coach Dabo Swinney is that the Tigers are still unbeaten.

With Saturday’s 37-34 win at No. 19 Florida State, the third-ranked Tigers have firm control of the Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division and are in solid position for a return trip to the College Football Playoff.

“We’re 8-0. We didn’t win the division tonight but we’ve got two hands on the steering wheel,” Swinney said.

The only team that could catch Clemson in the division is fifth-ranked Louisville, but if the two teams would tie, the Tigers (5-0 division) have the tiebreaker after their 42-36 victory on Oct. 1.

The Cardinals (8-1, 6-0) finish conference play at Boston College and against Wake Forest. Clemson hots Syracuse on Saturday and Pittsburgh before going to Wake Forest.

Swinney did acknowledge though that the win at Doak Campbell Stadium — which was Clemson’s first since 2006 — was a big goal that they wanted to accomplish.

“We’ve still got some work to do but we’re certainly on track,” Swinney said. “I thought we played much better two years ago but we lost (23-17 in overtime). This was a school record ninth straight road win and to get it here is special.”

While Swinney loves his team’s resolve in close games, the Tigers have made things difficult on themselves due to turnovers. A pair of Deshaun Watson interceptions led to FSU touchdowns. Clemson goes into this week’s game against Syracuse with a minus-one turnover margin this season.

“I’m just going to quit worrying about that. It just doesn’t make sense. It’s the dadgummest thing I’ve ever seen,” Swinney said. “Our goal is to be on the plus side when the season is over.”

Quarterback Deshaun Watson, who had 430 yards of total offense, is the first Clemson quarterback to beat Florida State in consecutive seasons but he is focusing more on correcting mistakes than accomplishments.

“It starts with me. I made two boneheaded mistakes,” he said. “I tried to force things but at the end of the day it is about getting the win.”

Charlie Whitehurst also beat Florida State twice but that happened in 2003 and ’05.

Swinney and his team though are hoping that their games aren’t quite as dramatic. Five of Clemson’s eight games have been decided by a touchdown or less and it is 16-2 in that scenario since 2011.

“We’ve made it hard. We keep finding a way to win and that tells you about the resiliency of our team. It’s our character, it’s what we’re built for,” Swinney said.