CLEMSON — By now, the routine is pretty familiar for the No. 9 Tigers.
Hit the road, wear the all-white jerseys (paired with the traditional helmet) and come home with a win — a more-often-than-not comfortable victory at that.
Last week’s 13-point edge at Maryland matched a 35-year program benchmark for consecutive wins away from Death Valley (7). On to Charlottesville, Va., Clemson (7-1, 5-1 ACC) also seeks a 16th-consecutive double-digit drubbing against the unranked, Saturday’s opponent Virginia (2-6, 0-4) fitting the bill.
The Tigers can complete an ACC road sweep for the first time since 1995, having averaged a 20-point margin of victory to this point. They’ve scored above the season average (38.3-37.4), and outgained the conference opponents by 150 yards a game.
“We play to a standard at home and away from home and I think that follows us on the road,” senior Clemson linebacker Quandon Christian said. “The leadership from the guys when we travel away has been big for us.”
That standard, or at least the play lately, has come under fire on the offensive end.
Clemson’s numbers are similar to last year at this point except in two key areas, red zone efficiency and turnovers.
They held on to the ball all but two times in the first four games, but in the last four, they’ve turned it over more than twice per game (2.2).
In the red zone, the Tigers have come away with three or less points seven times in the 16 trips. They started the year with TDs in 13-of-15 opportunities.
“We’ve done some great things here. We lose a game and people act like it’s the end of the world,” Boyd said, who’s seeking school-record ACC win No. 20. “We’re still a top-10 team. We’re 7-1, but it comes with it. That’s just the nature of it. As you get more competitive, the expectations start to go up.”
3-year comparison: Clemson offense (Through 8 games)
|Category||'13 Clemson||'12 Clemson||'11 Clemson|
|Scoring Offense||37.4 PPG||41 PPG||32.5 PPG|
|Total Yards||494 YPG||498 YPG||482.5 YPG|
|Cmp. Pct. (Tajh Boyd)||63.9||67.7||61.9|
|Yards Per Pass (Tajh Boyd)||8.53||9||8.6|
|Plays per game||84.3||80.5||78.3|
|Runs of 10+/Passes of 20+||9.3||10.5||9.3|
|3rd Down Pct.||43.3||53||48.5|
|Yards Per Carry||3.9||4.1||4.3|
|Yards Per Play||5.9||6.2||6.2|
Boyd’s outfit has had to adjust their strategy recently, as opposing defenses have started to play back in the secondary and dare them to run.
Clemson OC Chad Morris answered at Maryland with only 20 of Boyd’s 41 passes going past the line the scrimmage, and compiling the Tigers’ third-highest run-to-pass ratio (58.2) for a season-high 236 rushing yards.
“I think if anything it tests our patience,” Boyd said. “Last year a lot of teams played us with one-high looks and allowed us to go vertical and this year it’s been a different story. A lot of teams are playing deep and not letting us by them.
“That’s something we have to continue to take advantage of and understand the looks we’re going to see week-in and week-out. Make sure we utilize and not force things that are not there.”
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables has his own concerns after film sessions this week.
Opposing pass production is down across the board versus a deeper, experienced Tiger secondary, but they’ve given up their fair share of big plays.
Clemson ranks 96th nationally in completions of 10-plus yards surrendered (77), and only three teams have given up more 50-yard or more passes (6). Virginia has hit two of those through eight games.
“They’re going to be licking their chops. They’re not watching all of the great things we do,” Venables said. “They’re focusing on all that we do wrong. They’re nurturing that concept to attack doing this and this and this. We’re working hard to improve in a lot of little things. Being disciplined with what we’re doing.
Boyd, UVA QB hail from 757
Boyd has mentored younger QB
“If they throw a slant route on third and medium, we need to tackle them and let’s lineup and not be looking around and running out of our zones and not looking like a bunch of fools.”
As a first-year starter, Virginia redshirt sophomore quarterback David Watford has made fools of a few secondaries, engineering an attack that’s run the sixth-most plays at the FBS level (83.6 per game). Last week, he completed a school-record 43 passes, as one of three games he’s hit on 70 percent or better of his throws.
Watford has also had the inconsistencies expected with a young QB, completing 61.5 percent or worse in the rest with as many passing scores (3) as interceptions (3).
His opposite number and mentor, Clemson’s Boyd, hails from the same “757” Hampton Roads’ area code, where they faced off once as rivals in high school.
“We kinda crushed them a little bit,” Boyd said with a smile. “He’s a really good quarterback. He can run, but he’s a really good passer as well. Very poised and he was the same in high school.
“It’s been good to see him grow into a more mature phase. He’s been doing a really good job leading.”
Besides some obvious talent disparities, the Tigers and Hoos are also on different ends of the experience scale.
Virginia started four true freshmen last week and have played 12 total this season. They have the second-fewest seniors (8) at this level.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney likened them to his 2010 squad, young and a little snakebit this season.
“They’ve just got a lot of youth,” said Swinney. “They’ve got 13 or 14 freshmen on defense. They’ve got a young quarterback who is really, really talented and getting better. But I think their future is very bright, and they’re just a few plays away.
“Nobody wants to hear that, but I think with a little patience this team is going to step up and be one of the surprise teams in the next year or so.”
The Tiger coaches’ message this week and beyond hearkens back to lesson’s learned from 2011’s late stumble (1-3 to close the regular season): finish strong.
“It’s not the first eight games that we’ll be remembered by,” Clemson’s third-year offensive coordinator Morris said. “We’re setting up for a November to remember. That’s where you’re going to leave your legacy. All of this is leading up to the finish. It will be a huge challenge for us to win again on the road.”