No. 6 Clemson faces tough tests on the road, Miami up first
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) No. 6 Clemson is hitting the road, stepping out of its comfort zone and focused on duplicating the success the Tigers have had at home.
The Tigers (3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) have started 6-0 for the third time in five seasons with all but one of their contests in the cozy confines of Memorial Stadium. Now, they’re faced with back-to-back road trips, starting Saturday at Miami (4-2, 1-1).
Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said the players seem prepared to take on the challenges that come with playing away from Death Valley, where the Tigers have won a school-record 14 straight at home with last week’s 34-17 win over Boston College.
”We’ve had a lot of fun at home, but to do what we want to, we’ve got to win on the road,” Scott said Monday.
Clemson struggled in its lone chance off campus, holding off Louisville 20-17 in a way-closer-than-expected contest on national TV where the Tigers figured to make their case as one of the country’s top teams.
Instead, quarterback Deshaun Watson struggled to move the offense and Clemson was held to its fewest points of the season. Still, the 6-foot-3 sophomore leads the ACC with 14 touchdown passes, three of those coming this past Saturday. Watson was named ACC offensive back of the week, throwing for a season-high 420 yards in the win over Eagles.
”Obviously, Louisville, we got a taste of it and didn’t play our best game,” Scott said. ”But I don’t think it was a situation where we came home and said, `Our guys are scared to death to play on the road.”’
Watson said the oddity of a midweek game and opening ACC play led to a sluggish performance. There won’t be a similar slow start against the Hurricanes, he said.
”I think we’re ready. I think we’re prepared,” Watson said. ”It doesn’t matter where we play. We have a standard that we play to and wherever we go, we’re going to take that standard and perform.”
The road, though, hasn’t been kind to the Tigers in recent years.
Clemson is 17-4 in its past 21 games – all those defeats coming in true road games. That record also includes two neutral site games when Clemson defeated Ohio State in the Orange Bowl after the 2013 season and Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl last December.
Miami enters off a 30-20 victory over Virginia Tech where it forced four turnovers and rebounded from its loss a week earlier to rival Florida State. Clemson presents as difficult a challenge as the Hurricanes have faced, Miami defensive lineman Chad Thomas said.
”We’ve got our focus on heavy next week,” he said. ”Practice, we’ve got to go hard in practice. We’ve got to go to meeting rooms, major flim. That’s just the next game and we’ve got to take on the challenge.”
Players say they understand what they must do to attack the challenge.
Center Jay Guillermo, who won his second straight ACC offensive lineman of the week award Monday, said the location of the game can’t affect the rock-solid approach Clemson has taken all season.
”We missed some opportunities at Louisville for sure,” he said. ”But we always try and prepare the same and have the same mentality, matter where we’re playing. We’ll be all right.”
Scott said that also means not thinking about Clemson’s high ranking or implications each game has on its College Football Playoff chances. The Tigers come off a dominant showing over the Eagles, the coordinator added, yet slipped a spot in the Top 25.
There’s too much of the season left for Clemson to think about piling up points to pass some experts’ eye test, Scott said.
”From a big picture standpoint, I don’t really see a situation where if we take care of our business in our league,” he said, ”there’s not a big concern on our part that we’d get left out.”