BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Soft, weak and underachieving. Those were just a few of the names Clemson junior tight end Dwayne Allen had heard the Tigers called in past seasons.
And, the sad thing about it was Allen knew those descriptions were absolutely right.
"We knew that and all those guys in that [locker] room knew we weren't living up to the expectations," Allen said.
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Clemson ended last season with a blowout loss to rival South Carolina (29-7) and then a 31-26 loss to South Florida in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. The Tigers finished 6-7.
"Coach [Dabo] Swinney sat in the locker room after the loss to South Florida and said, 'I'll fix it,'" Allen said. "He went to work and that's something he's done."
Before the season Swinney had a message for the team.
"The one thing I have told the team is that if you are going to change Clemson, you've got to change it from the inside out and eventually it will blossom," Swinney said. "Our players have bought into that.
"If you'll do the common things in an uncommon way, you can command the attention of the world and they bought into that. We're not anything special, but doing common things in an uncommon way, now people are paying attention to us."
Yes they are. Especially after the No. 13-ranked Tigers dominated No. 11 Virginia Tech 23-3. It was Clemson's third consecutive victory against a ranked opponent, but more importantly it came on the road -- a place that hasn't been too kind to Clemson.
"We were not a good road team last year," said Swinney, whose club had lost four of its last five road games in ACC play.
But that was last year. This year is much, much different.
"Coach Swinney calls it 'the shock the world tour,'" Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd said. "We really feel like we believe in what we can do. I don't think a lot of people have seen that yet."
On Clemson's way to an undefeated September, the Tigers knocked off the defending champions of the Sun Belt Conference (Troy), Southern Conference (Wofford), Southeastern Conference and national champ (Auburn) and Atlantic Coast Atlantic Division champion (Florida State).
Four defending champions and four victories for the Tigers.
However, all those victories were at home. The question was could the Tigers keep it going on the road against another defending champion: Virginia Tech.
The defending ACC champion Hokies had won 15 consecutive regular-season games and 13 of their past 14 ACC home games. Yet, the Hokies were no match for Clemson. It got so bad that in the second half that the Hokies' fans were reduced to cheering for a 29-yard punt -- their night and their punting was that bad.
"I told them tonight we had the opportunity to show everyone else they're special," Swinney said. "It's the first time in the history of this conference to win three straight games [against ranked opponents]. Probably nobody out there except these 115 players and this staff that believed we can be 5-0.
"And, you know what, that's all that matters."
In their 4-0 start the Tigers had gained at least 443 yards in each of their first four games. But against Virginia Tech it was their defense that was the difference.
The Hokies were held without a touchdown at home for the first time since 1995 and held to their fewest points since a 22-3 loss at Boston College in 2006.
"Just enough offense and a whole heck of a lot of defense," Swinney said.
Virginia Tech was limited to 258 yards. Clemson senior defensive end Andre Branch was a beast. He had five tackles for loss, including three sacks. He also had a team-high 11 tackles and forced a fumble.
Now that Clemson is 5-0 -- the Tigers, who started the season unranked and unloved, have a very manageable schedule the rest of the way. There are home games with Boston College, North Carolina and Wake Forest and road games at Maryland, Georgia Tech, N.C. State and South Carolina.
"Obviously we'll be a target now," Swinney said. "We're not an underdog anymore. We're in the driver's seat."
Except for games at Georgia Tech and South Carolina, Clemson should be favored in its remaining games.
"The changes start with the players, it starts with the personnel you have," Allen said. "The character that those guys have and Coach Swinney -- since he's taken over he's done a good job of kicking guys out that didn't fit his character mode.
"This game show shows we're able to go on the road. I didn't know how we would play. It's great to go out on the road and experience that road atmosphere. Instead of guys fearing it, it's something we thrive on.
"We're not the 2006 team, we're not 2007 team. We're the 2011 Clemson Tigers."
And that is very different breed.
After he was drenched on the sideline by a Gatorade bath, Swinney told a reporter on the field "the fun's in the winning." Afterward, Swinney walked into his post-game press conference carrying a football.
The game ball.
"The players gave this to me," Swinney said. "I'm not letting it go. It's my first game ball as a coach. It's special."
So is his team. Very, very special.