CLEMSON -- The whole stadium saw it: Florida State defenders had lost track of Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who was uncovered on a goal-line play last Saturday. The Clemson sideline saw it, screaming for center Dalton Freeman to snap the ball. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd saw it, urging Freeman, with his loudest possible volume, to snap the ball.
"I was screaming 'Snap the ball, Go! Go! Go!'," Boyd said. "He couldn't hear me."
The problem? The Florida State band was playing near the west end zone the Tigers were approaching, drowning out the urgent pleas. To combat the noise, the offense had gone to silent snap count. Boyd called a timeout in frustration.
While offensive coordinator Chad Morris uses numbered-and-colored placards to signal in plays from the sideline, a system unaffected by crowd noise, Boyd and the Clemson offensive line must still use verbal communication to make protection calls, which can be difficult in a hostile environment. Likewise, silent snap counts will likely be necessary inside a raucous Lane Stadium today (6 p.m., ESPN2) when No. 13 Clemson (4-0, 1-0 ACC) travels to play No. 11 Virginia Tech (4-0).
"(Boyd) has got to communicate to the offensive linemen," Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said. "Our offensive line does not read signals. Our signal system is really simpler than it has been, it has to be to be (simple) to go as fast as we go. It's just making sure they get the protection call, which way we are running it, and the snap count. Then if it's a silent count, they have to know that and we did that some (last week)."
But as the missed goal-line opportunity demonstrated, crowd noise could be a problem for the young Tigers today.
Boyd said he has little experience with the silent snap count. The majority of the sophomore's playing time last year came at home against South Carolina and in the bowl game. This season, Clemson has yet to play a road game.
Clemson was 1-4 on the road last season.
The silent count works like this: Boyd makes sure the offense is set and then gives Freeman an indicator sign. Freeman then lifts his head, a movement which signals the silent count has commenced, then the linemen begin counting off the snap count to themselves.
"It's tough on the (tackles), they can't be sitting there looking at me to snap the ball," Freeman said. "We get a rhythm as we go. We practice with crowd noise, we get in flow, we kind of know what each other will do, but it's tough."
Boyd notes the best way to avoid communication issues today is to keep up the offensive pace of the last two weeks, totaling a combined 1,057 yards in wins against Auburn and Florida State.
"Hopefully, if we score fast enough and often enough, it will be a little quiet in there," Boyd said.