Clemson became an elite program when it learned how to win on the road
In 2011, Clemson started to turn the corner with its football program.
The Tigers opened the year with eight straight wins and peaked at No. 6 in the Associated Press Top 25. However, they were not where they wanted to be just yet. They had to learn how to handle success, especially when going on the road.
Winning at Death Valley has always been easy for Clemson. The Tigers are 60-7 at home under head coach Dabo Swinney, including 47-3 in its last 50 home games. However, winning on the road was not easy at first.
From 2008-’11, the Tigers were just 7-11 in true road games under Swinney.
But in 2011, Clemson went to Blacksburg, Va., and dominated No. 11 Virginia Tech, 23-3, stunning the country and spring boarding a run to the program’s first ACC Championship in 20 years. Two weeks later, it rallied to beat Maryland in College Park, Md., after trailing by three scores in the second half.
Everyone thought the Tigers arrived, but they were not there just yet. A few weeks after the win at Maryland, Clemson went to Atlanta and got ambushed by Georgia Tech on a Thursday night. After clinching the ACC’s Atlantic Division title with a home win over Wake Forest, the Tigers closed the regular season with back-to-back road losses to NC State and South Carolina.
In those three straight road losses, Clemson was outscored 102-43. Obviously, the Tigers were not where they wanted to be.
“At the end of the day, nine years ago, that was one of the main objectives, for me, in building our program. Listen, the same things that win at home win on the road,” Swinney said. “Those things don’t change. You’re never going to be great at anything if you allow the external factors and the things that you can no control over to dictate your performance week in and week out.”
Things started to change for the Tigers in road games following its loss at Florida State in 2012. Clemson won its last three road games that year and then went 4-1 in 2013 in true road games.
“I think just overall, just the culture of our program, focusing on the things that you can control,” Swinney said. “We try to do a good job of preparing our guys for the environments that we’re going into from a noise standpoint and all that stuff because those are definitely factors that you’ve got to deal with, procedurally, etc.”
Starting in 2012, Clemson is 23-6 in true road games, the fourth best figure nationally in the country. Only Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma have done better.
Since 2015, the Tigers are 14-1 in true road games, tied with Alabama and Oklahoma with the best road records during that time.
“I think our guys have done a great job with that. But it is a challenge, there’s no question about it. It’s a huge challenge for every program. You don’t see many programs who have great records on the road against evenly matched teams. We’ve been able to be successful, and I think that’s a big reason why.”
Clemson, who beat four ranked opponents on the road last year, hopes to make it 15-1 this Saturday when it travels to College Station, Texas for the first since 2004 for a date with Texas A&M.
“That’s just a part of our culture, and our guys have bought into that,” Swinney said. “So that’s part of it. But then the second thing is you’ve got to be good enough. You can have the right mindset and you can be focused on the things that you can control and really all that stuff, but you’ve still got to be good enough.
“So, I think we have built just a talented program. That’s first and foremost. But I think the mindset and the culture is a huge part of being able to build a consistent winner, whether you’re on the road or at home, and trying to keep the guys really locked in on how they have to focus to be able to win in those environments.”