By Will Vandervort
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — In 1978, Clemson beat Ohio State in the Gator Bowl for a victory that launched the Tigers into the national spotlight and set the tone for the program’s run to its only national championship in 1981.
Unfortunately, the game is also remembered for what happened in the final moments than anything else. Clemson middle guard Charlie Bauman intercepted an Art Schlichter pass on a third-and-five play at the Clemson 24 with the Buckeyes trailing by only two points. On the return Bauman was run out of bounds in front of the Ohio State bench. As he got up, legendary Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes threw a bunch at Bauman’s throat and a scuffle followed as both benches cleared.
The next morning Hayes was fired, forever linking Clemson and Ohio State together.
“It’s an unfortunate part of the history for both of these teams,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “I mean, it’s a situation that you wish didn’t occur.”
Now thirty five years later, the Tigers and the Buckeyes have an opportunity to erase those memories of the past and create some new ones as the two meet up tonight in the 2014 Discover Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Clemson (10-2) also hopes it is an opportunity to erase the memory of its last trip to South Florida, a 37-point loss to West Virginia in the 2012 Orange Bowl Classic.
“We have a different mentality this year,” Clemson wide receiver Adam Humphries said. “Obviously we have to prove ourselves from when we were here two years ago. We’ve got a lot to prove. We’ve got a group of guys that are a lot more mature.
“I know a few years ago we had something like 40 freshmen on the team that had never been to a bowl game, never been to Miami. And being a lot more mature and just knowing the process we have to go by is a lot different than two years ago.”
The team the Tigers are facing is a lot different, too. Unlike West Virginia, Ohio State (12-1) is a big, physical team that likes to pound its opponent with a hard-nosed running game on offense. On defense, it smoothers its opponent’s running backs with one of the nation’s best run defenses, forcing the quarterback to win the game while they continuously hit him with one of the nation’s best sacking squads.
“When you watch their defense, obviously, they’re very, very sound up front,” Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “I think one of the best parts of their defense is their defensive front. They’re very physical and strong.”
“This is going to be a great challenge for us to see where we are and to watch Tajh (Boyd) perform in his last ball game. I think it’s big for Tajh,” he said.
There are a lot of people that view tonight’s Orange Bowl as a potential legacy game for Boyd, who owns 11 Atlantic Coast Conference records and 52 Clemson records, while guiding the Tigers to three straight 10-win seasons and to its only conference championship in the last 22 years.
No matter the outcomes tonight, Boyd’s legacy at Clemson should already be stamped out. But fair or not, a victory in the Orange Bowl over one of the best programs in the country should more than take away the stings that came from losing to Florida State and South Carolina.
“You know, it’s more of a finisher,” Boyd said. “I think, when you start adding legacies and things of that nature, I think that’s what people kind of incorporate and what they make it to be.
“Honestly, for me it’s all about trying to make sure it’s the best game that I played thus far. It’s more so not just for me, but for this program and this university. Obviously, a win in a bowl game adds momentum; it adds fuel to you during the off-season. So it’s important for me personally to go out here and try to get a victory. It’s also important for this team and what they’re trying to accomplish next year as well.
“Will people remember this game as the sole game that kind of let me out? I’m not sure. That’s kind of for other people to say.”
In the end, hopefully the 2014 Orange Bowl is remembered as a game that allowed new memories to be born and old ones to be forgotten.