What: No. 9 Clemson (7-1, 5-1 ACC) at Virginia (2-6, 0-4)
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, Va.
CLEMSON — Maybe Clemson ought to rethink its famed pregame pageantry for home games, because it’s getting to be quite good when Death Valley isn’t a safe haven on Saturday.
No, the Tigers aren’t giving up their hill or their rock. But they are enjoying a seven-game winning streak in games away from Memorial Stadium; three games last year, three roadies this year and the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl last New Year’s Eve in Atlanta against LSU.
Seven straight road or neutral wins marks the longest streak the program has enjoyed in 34 years.
“Obviously, that’s not easy to do. Heck, I was 8 years old,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “I’m just really proud of our guys taking care of business. If you’re going to be a great, elite program, you’ve got to be a consistent winner on the road.”
Most of the true road games haven’t been real shocking triumphs; last year’s tilts at Boston College, Wake Forest and Duke, and this year’s trips to North Carolina State, Syracuse and Maryland have hardly instilled fear in a team that fancies itself one of the nation’s best.
The Tigers were double-digit point favorites in all those road efforts except Boston College, and the Eagles were a touchdown underdog in that game.
Even so, college football is nothing if not unpredictable, and the Tigers have, as Swinney said, taken care of their business. They’re owners of the eighth-longest non-home winning streak in the country, a group led by Oregon’s 18 straight victories.
“That’s says a great amount about Clemson and what the program is moving towards,” junior safety Robert Smith said. “To win seven, Coach Swinney pointed out that hasn’t happened a lot around here. I feel like more’s going to come off of that.”
It certainly is a turnaround; the Tigers lost five of their previous seven games away from Clemson, capped by a 49-37 defeat at Florida State on Sept. 22, 2012, before this perfect streak began.
“You can tell we all expect to win. We don’t go into a game hoping to win,” Smith said. “You can tell the culture around here is way different. We expect to go three and out. When we don’t go three and out, it’s like, hold up, something’s not right. We expect to hold people under 14 points. When a touchdown happens, that really hurts us, and we feel like we’re better than that.”
One individual performer who has excelled in the road whites rather than the orange uniforms worn at home is junior wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who has 11 catches for 210 yards and no touchdowns in five home games, but 13 catches for 240 yards and three scores on the road.
“I really treat every game the same,” Bryant said, “but it feels better to play someone at their stadium. But I like playing at home, too.”
Clemson’s leading tackler, linebacker Stephone Anthony, has 28 tackles in five home games but 26 tackles in three road games; defensive tackle Grady Jarrett actually has more tackles on the road (19) than at home (14) and defensive end Vic Beasley has 10 of his 15 tackles for loss in the three road games.
Kicker Chandler Catanzaro is perfect on his six field-goal attempts away from home, all at N.C. State at night and at Maryland when it was windy.
“We play to a standard away from home, and at home, so I think that follows us on the road,” linebacker Quandon Christian said. “The leadership of the guys, when we travel, has been good for us.
“Winning on the road is very hard to do, so we’re very proud of it.”
The program’s longest winning streak away from home is 10 games, which to tie would require wins Saturday at Virginia, Nov. 30 at South Carolina, and then likely the bowl game (presuming Florida State doesn’t bounce out from its ACC Championship game path.)
“It’s fun to go on the road and play in somebody else’s home,” said Christian, before adding with a smile, “It’s fun if you win, too. To beat somebody in their own house is a great feeling.”