The last time Clemson lost on an opponent’s home field was on November 15, 2014.
That was the afternoon in which Deshaun Watson got hurt and backup quarterback Cole Stoudt was not prepared to take on a Georgia Tech defense that swarmed him all day at Grant Field in Atlanta. Though the defense played well enough to win, two interception returns for touchdowns and another that set up a third score allowed Georgia Tech to hand Clemson a 28-6 loss.
Since then, the Tigers have been almost unbeatable away from Death Valley. Heading into this Saturday’s ACC showdown with Virginia Tech, in a rematch of last year’s ACC Championship Game, Clemson has won a school-record 11 straight games in what is dubbed a true-road game.
Overall, since that faithful day in Atlanta, the Tigers have won 17 of their last 18 games away from Death Valley. The lone loss was a five-point defeat to Alabama in the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
During this unprecedented stretch, which you only think of Nick Saban and Alabama doing, the Tigers have played and beaten some pretty good competition on the biggest of stages. Of the 17 wins, eight have come against ranked teams, including a 47-21 win at No. 14 Louisville just a few weeks ago.
Clemson (4-0, 2-0 ACC) has also taken down two-ranked Oklahoma teams, a one-loss top 10 North Carolina squad, beat a top 15 Florida State team in Tallahassee for the first time in 10 years, shutout Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl in a stadium that looked like a home game for the Buckeyes and then took down big, bad Alabama in last year’s CFP National Championship Game.
So why have the Tigers had so much success?
“It’s a mindset that if you’re a good player, you’re a good player wherever,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “It shouldn’t matter what the weather is, or what state you’re in, or what color your uniforms are … if you’re a good player, you’re a good player.
“Championship teams and great players don’t get distracted by those external factors.”
That’s the mindset set second-ranked Clemson will have this Saturday when it visits No. 12 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. Outside of the CFP games, Saturday’s contest might be the Tigers’ toughest challenge to date and is the toughest true-road test since the road streak began.
Lane Stadium is not an easy venue to get a win at. The Hokie fans sit right on top of the players and when things are going well for their team, especially on defense, they can jump on top of an opponent quickly and basically take their will to succeed from them.
As a person who has traveled and covered games in every ACC stadium, but one—Pitts’ Heinz Field—Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium is second to Clemson in Game Day atmosphere and intimidation. When their team is playing well, it’s every bit as tough for the opposing team to get a win as Death Valley is.
Heading into Saturday’s game, the Hokies have won eight of their last nine home games. So how will the Tigers try to combat what they will see and hear in Lane Stadium?
“There is a certain mindset that you have to have when you go on the road, because now, all of a sudden, you’ve got a lot of energy against you, and you have to learn how to channel that and not get distracted by it in order to play well,” Swinney said. “You’ve got to have a lot of mental toughness to be able to go and win on the road. But I think if you’re a good team, you’re a good team. You shouldn’t just play well at home. You shouldn’t just play well at night. You shouldn’t just play well in a certain uniform. Just play well regardless.”
In the past, Clemson has played well in Blacksburg. The Tigers have an 8-4 record there, including a 23-3 victory there in their last visit in 2011. But, just like playing in Death Valley, none of that guarantees a victory this time around.
“Sometimes you have a bad night,” Swinney said. “Last year, we got beat at home. Pittsburgh outplayed us, and we didn’t quite do some of the things that we would’ve liked to have done, and we got beat. I don’t really get too caught up in when we’re on the road. I enjoy going on the road. I think it’s fun to pack it all up, see some different places and see how you do.”
And in Clemson’s case, it has done quite well.