TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — As No. 3 Clemson gets set to play at No. 14 Florida State on Saturday night at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida it has to have a certain mindset to win. It has to play fearless. It has to play tough and it has to do whatever it takes to win.
That’s something the Tigers have been able to do at just about every other place but Tallahassee the last 24 years, where they are 1-11 since the Seminoles joined the ACC in 1992. The lone win here came 10 years ago, and they are 0-4 under current head coach Dabo Swinney.
“Nobody wins in Tallahassee,” Swinney said.
But Clemson (7-0, 4-0 ACC) needs to if it wants to stay at the top of the College Football Playoff Race. With the first poll coming out next Tuesday, and a favorable schedule in the last month to follow, a win over the Seminoles will almost assure the Tigers will be a serious contender for the Playoff.
But, winning at Florida State is easier said than done.
Clemson enters Saturday night’s 8:22 p.m. kick as winners in its last eight road games – the fifth longest streak in the country. It also tied for the long such streak in Clemson history.
During their current eight-game streak, the Tigers have won at some tough places. It started with a win at Louisville in 2014, while also includes wins at Miami, at Auburn and at Georgia Tech. The key ingredients in all of those road victories … a tenacious defense that played with a sense of urgency and desperation.
“We talk about having a road-dog mentality,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “To have a chance to win against great people on the road, you have to play good defense and win the field position. We are a huge part of that.
“You don’t have anyone cheering you on. You don’t have anyone to tell to get up so the crowd can affect the offense like you do at home. So you see a lot of adversity when you are on the road so you try to get your players to have a mindset where they embrace that mentality.”
But doing at Florida State and at Miami and NC State are different beasts. The Seminoles (5-2, 2-2 ACC) have won 23 of their last 24 games at Doak Campbell Stadium.
“Our guys recognize going into Doak Campbell all the pageantry that goes on, the pride in that program and the success that they have had, the players that they have recruited and the schemes that they have so I expect our guys to go in there with a great mindset. They know that if we are off, we are asking for it,” Venables said. “We are trying to develop the mindset of going on the road and the type of toughness and mentality that it takes to go into somebody else backyard, in their house and on their home field … so to have a chance to win, you have to play great defense.”
That mindset has worked pretty well so far this season, and it has helped Clemson end long losing streaks at Auburn and at Georgia Tech. The Tigers had not won at Auburn since 1950 prior to this year’s season-opening win, and they had a five-game losing streak at Georgia Tech before squashing the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta on Sept. 22. And the credit goes to the defense for playing a key role in both victories.
Clemson held Auburn to a season-low 87 rushing yards and 262 overall, while Tech had just 124 total yards and just 95 yards on the ground.
“When you are more frantic than ever or more desperate than ever to win, you have to play good defense,” Venables said. “We have been in too many shootouts through the years, more than I care to remember, but that is not what you plan to do, to go on the road and win shootout. That’s not the mindset.”
Nope. The mindset is to be fearless, tough and relentless, and they will need all three if they hope to leave Doak Campbell with a rare victory on Saturday.