Since the start of the 2015 football season, second-ranked Clemson has won 14 of its last 15 road games. The Tigers have won at places such as Auburn, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville (twice), NC State (twice) and South Carolina (twice).
On Saturday, Clemson will visit perhaps the most difficult and challenging environment to date. Texas A&M’s Kyle Field holds more than 102,000 and it is also the Home of College Football’s 12th Man, one of the best traditions in all of college football.
“This is kind of what we have become used to at Clemson,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “This is kind of our normal, going on the road in a hostile environment against a very talented team.
“So this will be a great challenge for our team and our offense early in the year.”
From the Tigers’ 14-1 road record the last three seasons, 10 of those have come in primetime, which is what will be the case this Saturday with another 7 p.m. kick (Eastern Time) from College Station, Texas. As a matter of fact, Clemson has now played nine of its last 10 road games in primetime.
“This is a business trip first and foremost,” quarterback Kelly Bryant said. “We are coming to win a ballgame. It is going to be tough being out there and playing in a good environment like that. It is a challenge and we are looking forward to it.
“We have to make sure that we come ready to play.”
This will not be the Clemson program’s first trip to Kyle Field. Actually, Clemson is 0-2 at Texas A&M, being outscored at total of 51-6 in the two games. The Tigers lost 24-0 there in 1974 and then 27-6 in 2004.
“Going to an environment like that is pretty much the first for everyone. We’ve been in ball games with environments like this…the older guys,” Bryant said. “The biggest thing is telling the younger guys to channel the energy the right way, and to try and not focus on what is going on in the stands. We aren’t going to prepare any differently than we did last week.”
The Tigers two previous losses at Kyle Field were obviously at different times when Clemson was not the same program it is today. Also, the Tigers did not have the familiarity it has with this A&M team and its coaching staff.
New head coach Jimbo Fisher came over in the off-season from Florida State where he was 4-4 against Dabo Swinney and the Clemson program. Defensive coordinator Mike Elko is also familiar with the Tigers after coaching against them for three years from 2014-’16 at Wake Forest.
“I have a lot of respect for Mike Elko, their defensive coordinator,” Scott said. “He has a reputation as being one of the better defensive coordinators in the country. Obviously, we are familiar with him from playing him at Wake Forest.”
In the three years Clemson faced a Mike Elko defense at Wake Forest, the Tigers averaged 34 points per game. Though there is familiarity between the two coaching staffs, it does not necessarily mean they know what each other will do.
“You don’t really know what you can get. There is a bit of an unknown out there,” Scott said. “Anytime you have a new coordinator and a new head coach and a new coaching staff with a whole new program, there is the unknown. Obviously, we have close to a thousand plays we have broken down with Elko, now with the first game here at A&M, and at three different spots. So, you have to prepare for all of it, but you also have to understand that you could get something different.”
Though the scheme might be the same, the differences come with the personnel. Obviously with Texas A&M being one of the better programs in the country in terms of facilities and resources, Elko will have more talented players to try and combat Clemson’s offense. That is something he necessarily did not have at Wake Forest.
“His scheme might be similar, but what he does within the scheme really various with the type of personnel that he has and I will say he has different personnel at A&M than maybe some other places,” Scott said. “Also, coaches change. Even though the philosophy may be the same, what we are doing maybe different than what we did three or four years ago. I think it is one of those things that you have to be prepared for everything and probably a few things that are not on video.
“Then it is the same thing with them. Coach Fisher has played us. Coach Elko has played us so they have familiarity with our offense. So, those are things we will take into account as well.”