For nine long months, the Tigers had done almost everything right.
They did their best to turn the page. They went back to work. They made themselves strong and faster. Young players began to take themselves, and their responsibilities, more seriously.
They worked their way through a spring of learning, developing and more installation on offense, and jumped into new defensive coordinator Brent Venables' fresh start with attentiveness and enthusiasm.
They seemingly shrugged off the loss of Sammy Watkins for the first two games and went about their business, working and preparing.
And still, when they stepped on the field Saturday night against Auburn, they didn't know.
Not for sure.
The last time they played, they had widely been described as an embarrassment to themselves; and they had given themselves no real room for argument.
All they could do, indeed, was turn the page. Go on to their next shot - as every golfer, weekender or pro, knows is essential to long-term success.
Dabo Swinney and his Tigers are into this program-building thing for the long haul.
They took another huge step Saturday night, out-toughing a quality opponent - in Atlanta, even - on national TV, and answering, resoundingly, their two most pressing questions.
No. 1, could they bounce back from their Orange Bowl debacle?
All preseason it was the giant elephant in the room. Talking about moving on isn't the same thing as moving on. On Saturday, the Tigers plainly stated that this is the beginning of a new year, and that they really do have the stuff to play with the best in the country.
No. 2, could a fresh-face offensive line really take toughness and physicality to a new level - something else that Clemson coaches and players have talked abut doing for a long time, without providing much evidence of a breakthrough?
The answer, again, was an emphatic 'yes.'
As Swinney said afterwards, no team is going to lose many games when they rush for 320 yards - especially a team whose dynamic passing attack is one of the big reasons that fans buy tickets.
When it was all over, the word 'dominate' rolled off Swinney's tongue like sweet honey. A game-ball went to strength and conditioning director Joey Batson. The Tigers, Swinney said, could have played all night.
"Tyler Shatley's never played in the offensive line and then there's Giff (Timothy) and (David) Beasley, who've barely played at all," Swinney said. "Those guys stepped up and dominated the game.
"The key to me, coming into this thing, was going to be the turnover margin, which we won, and who could dominate the line of scrimmage. I don't think there's any question that we did that. We won both those battles and that's why we won the game."
Looking to the other side of the line, Swinney said he's "incredibly happy" with Brent Venables' defense, which allowed just one touchdown, and, like the offense, seemed to get better as the game progressed.
"We had so many sophomores and redshirt freshmen starting and playing big roles," he said. "I was anxious to see if they could take the next step and perform on game-day like they've performed in practice. They all made plays, and they're all just going to get better.
"This was a tough, tough challenge against a team just two years removed from being the national champion. I'm really proud of our guys in every area of the football team - special teams, defense and offense. It was a gutsy win."
Perhaps best of all, room for improvement will be easy to come by as they go back to work this week in preparation for their home opener against Ball State.
"A ton of mistakes - penalties and drops, costly errors, 12 men on the field," said Swinney. "We had to settle for a couple of field goals where we made some mistakes. So we've got plenty to improve on. And we'll have to do that if we're going to be the kind of team we're capable of being."