Dabo Swinney has been preparing his team for the first true road trip of 2021 by pumping in enough noise at practice to make his ears ring.
But that's the goal. Make it as ridiculous as possible to hear so when his No. 9 Clemson Tigers get into Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh on Saturday at 3:30 p.m., it actually easier to communicate than it was in practice.
"If we can function that way, we can function on gameday," Swinney said.
That's one of the biggest challenges when going on the road at N.C. State. The Tigers are still young on offense and searching for their identity on that side of the ball. Saturday represents not just a growing-up opportunity, but a true test in a season that Clemson must run the table moving forward to have any shot at a meaningful postseason.
As bleak as things looked offensively in last week's 14-8 nail-biter over Georgia Tech, going on the road has its privileges. The Tigers have endured an enormous amount of criticism from local and national media and the fan base. They aren't immune to the outside noise. Any belief otherwise is shortsighted in this day and age of information.
However, getting on a bus, boarding a plane and spending the night a long way from home might be exactly what Clemson's players and coaches need right now.
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"I have always liked (road trips), even when I was a player," Swinney said. "It's us against them. You know you are in hostile territory, from the bus ride into pregame to the game. It's one of those things that can galvanize you.
"I think you grow a lot in those types of games and find out where you are. It's an experience that as a competitor you always look forward to. It's a great environment. I have always thought that N.C. State has an excellent college environment."
The timing is important. Clemson needs a distraction, not the kind that draws attention to the team, but one that allows them to forget about the last three weeks and focus on one goal.
Opening up against No. 2 Georgia exposed Clemson's offense and gave them their first Week 1 loss since 2014. Week 2, the FCS foe S.C. State at home didn't offer much resistance, so the Tigers tried to work out some kinks and build confidence.
Last week, it didn't carry over against the Yellow Jackets inside Death Valley. The offense totaled just 284 yards and turned the ball over twice on fumbles. The defense needed a goal-line stop late to secure the win. That side of the ball hasn't given up a touchdown all season.
The Tigers are still trying to put it all together. Maybe a unifying force like a road game does just that.
"Not everybody can go and a lot of your team is back," Swinney said. "You have your travel roster. You have to lean on each other. That's really all you've got. And we've done well on the road because at the end of the day, the same things that win at home win on the road. If you let external factors determine your performance, you're never going to be a good team. You have to get the experience and grow from it. It will be fun to see how these guys respond."
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