Clemson looks for its second straight win at Georgia Tech
Bobby Dodd Stadium has never been kind to the Clemson football program. Since it opened in 2013, the nation’s oldest college football stadium has been the home to some heartbreaking moments for the Tigers.
Overall, Clemson is just 10-38-1 all-time at the Atlanta based stadium, including a 6-10 record against the Yellow Jackets since Georgia Tech started playing as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference in 1983.
“I don’t really think it is a difficult place to go and play. I just think we have had some games where we just did not play well,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.
Since Swinney came to Tigertown, first as the program’s wide receivers coach, Clemson has won at Bobby Dodd just twice. First in 2003 and then two years ago. In between were five straight crazy losses to the Yellow Jackets when the Tigers were the favorites in four of the games.
This year, as second-ranked Clemson (3-0) heads to Atlanta for a 3:30 p.m., start on Saturday, the Tigers are listed as a 16-point favorite over the 1-2 Yellow Jackets.
“When you throw pick-sixes and you give up boneheaded plays, you get beat anywhere. Bobby Dodd, Death Valley, it doesn’t matter,” Swinney said. “It is a place where you have to show up and be ready. And, it is a great rivalry. Georgia Tech has beaten Clemson more than Clemson has beaten them over the years, but certainly since I have been here we have had some tough ones down there.”
Some of those loses were a 10-9 loss in 2005, where a possible winning touchdown was negated due to a tight end not being lined up properly. There was a similar situation in 2007, plus Clemson missed four field goals in a 13-3 loss.
“I tried to shut that one out of mine,” Swinney said.
In 2009, Swinney’s first year as the head coach at Clemson, the Tigers lost a heartbreaking, 30-27, game, after rallying from 24-0 to take the lead late in the game. A long pass to Jacoby Ford, which could have set Clemson up for a possible win, was called back due to a holding call.
In 2011, Clemson brought an 8-0 team into Bobby Dodd with playmakers such as Tajh Boyd at quarterback, Andre Ellington at running back, Dwayne Allen at tight end and wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Deandre Hopkins, but they were run out of town thanks to a 31-17 defeat.
“We spit the bit,” Swinney said. “We did not know how to handle that. We were way out of our league as far as we had just never been there as far as building the culture, the mindset and how to handle adversity. When you are a favorite and things go against you and how to manage that. We did not do a good job of that. That was a disaster.”
2014 was a disaster, too. Quarterback Deshaun Watson tore his ACL late in the first quarter after Clemson was moving the ball up and down the field. Then on the first play he went out, Cole Stoudt threw his first of two pick sixes and the Tigers lost 28-6.
“That is how you get beat,” Swinney said. “We have had some bad moments down there for sure.”
However, since that November day in 2014, Clemson has won 15 of its last 16 games on the road, including a 26-7 win at Bobby Dodd Stadium in 2016.
“Our guys went down there and handled business a couple of years ago,” Swinney said. “A lot of those guys are still on the team. We have been a good road team and that is a product of kind of changing how we focus on things.”
Swinney thinks Clemson struggled in Atlanta for so long because the program bought into “The Ghost of Bobby Dodd” stories and did not focus on the things that make a team successful in road games.
“You have to play well. The game does not change based on where you are,” Swinney said. “It is the same game. It is the same rules and the same things win and the same things lose.
“We are just trying to be focused on, not where we play or any of that, but just play well. Let’s grow and let’s get better and let’s play our best game this week. The only way that can happen is let’s have our best Thursday and let’s have our best Friday and then everybody take relentless pride in trying to be a winner.”
The Tigers have learned to do that as good or better than anyone in the country since losing to the Yellow Jackets back on that cold November day in Atlanta in 2014.
“You try to fight for every play that you get for it to be a plus. If you have that mindset then you have a chance to be successful,” Swinney said. “It does not mean that you are not going to have some adversity, make mistakes … things happen. The other team has good players, but you have to play four quarters and try to win a whole lot more than you lose.”