CLEMSON – Home-field advantage?
The Clemson football team has expanded that line of thinking in recent years, having enjoyed an advantage regardless of venue.
The second-ranked and unbeaten Tigers (4-0) will carry a school-record 11-game road winning streak into Saturday night’s game at No. 12 Virginia Tech.
So how has that been accomplished?
“I just think it’s a mindset,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “You’ve got to be good enough, obviously, but the mindset is what matters more than anything – having the mental toughness that you’ve got to have to win on the road.”
Swinney has proven effective at imparting that toughness. The Tigers haven’t lost a true road game since Nov. 14, 2014, at Georgia Tech.
Clemson went 5-0 on the road in 2015 and 5-0 again last season, with last year’s unbeaten road record a notable accomplishment considering that the Tigers won at Auburn, Georgia Tech and Florida State – three places where winning is far from an expectation. Clemson had not won at Auburn since 1950, had not won at Georgia Tech since 2003 and had not won at Florida State since 2006.
Clemson extended the school record to 11 by winning at No. 14 Louisville on Sept. 16.
“I enjoy going on the road,” Swinney said. “I think it’s fun to kind of pack it all up and see different places and see how you do.”
Besides, as Swinney reminded last week, the Tigers’ most recent defeat came at home.
“Sometimes you have a bad night,” Swinney said. “But last year we got beat at home because Pittsburgh outplayed us.”
Saturday night’s trip to the Hokies’ Lane Stadium could prove another major hurdle. Virginia Tech is 67-19 at home since joining the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004, including a 36-16 mark in league games.
The Hokies are 7-1 at home in their second season under coach Justin Fuente.
“It’s a great place to play a game,” Swinney said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for Virginia Tech people and how they support their team.”
But Clemson has won four consecutive games against the Hokies, including a 23-3 victory at Lane Stadium in 2011 that ranks as Clemson’s most lopsided road win ever against a ranked opponent.
“I’ve never really bought into the ‘you’re not supposed to play well on the road' theory ” Swinney said. “If you’re a good player, you’re a good player anywhere. It shouldn’t matter where you play. If you’re a good team, you’re a good team anywhere, anytime, regardless of whether the crowd’s cheering for you or cheering against you.
“It shouldn’t matter what the weather is or what stadium you’re in or what color the uniforms are. Championship teams and good players don’t get distracted by those external factors.”
Clemson already owns victories this season against ranked opponents Auburn and Louisville, with the Louisville win coming on the road.
But that won’t mean much Saturday night.
“Sometimes that past performance doesn’t mean we’re going to go play well this time on the road,” Swinney said. “You take a team to Louisville, early in the season, with a lot of new guys who haven’t played on the road and that’s a good experience. The fact that we won the game, that’s great, but you’ve got to go play well again. This is a different place, a different team.”
By the same token, Swinney is glad that the Tigers’ early schedule has been challenging.
“We’re battle tested,” he said. “We’ve played two Top 15 teams, one at their place. We’ve had our noses blooded, we’ve had to respond to some adversity. It hasn’t been all rosy.”
CLEMSON’S ROAD WINNING STREAK
2017: At No. 14 Louisville, Won 47-21
2016: At Wake Forest, Won 35-13
2016: At No. 12 Florida State, Won 37-34
2016: At Boston College, Won 56-10
2016: At Georgia Tech, Won 26-7
2016: At Auburn, Won 19-13
2015: At South Carolina, Won 37-32
2015: At Syracuse, Won 37-27
2015: At N.C. State, Won 56-41
2015: At Miami, Won 58-0
2015: At Louisville, Won 20-17
Scott Keepfer, The Greenville News