Clemson Flashback: McSwain brothers help Tigers finish 1981 undefeated

Clemson Flashback: McSwain brothers help Tigers finish 1981 undefeated

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Clemson Flashback: McSwain brothers help Tigers finish 1981 undefeated

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Clemson beats rival Gamecocks to complete first 11-0 season since 1948

Danny Ford was a little ahead of his times when it came to how he used his running backs. In the late 1970s and ’80s, it was common for college football teams to have one running back to carry the majority of the load. South Carolina did it with George Rogers during his Heisman Trophy campaign in 1980, and did Georgia did the same with Herschel Walker in 1982.

Ford, who only thought about the forward pass if he was forced to do so, believed in having a stable of running backs at his disposal.

“One guy would start a game, but the other guy might end it,” former Clemson running back Cliff Austin said.

Austin, along with Chuck McSwain, played tailback for the Tigers in 1981. Austin led the Tigers with 824 yards and scored nine touchdowns that season, while McSwain was second on the team with 692 yards and seven scores.

Clemson also used Jeff McCall (457 yards and five touchdowns) and Kevin Mack (287 yards and two touchdowns) at fullback, giving the Tigers four All-ACC caliber running backs that could carry the rock at any time.

“Back then, we did not get but nine carries a game,” McSwain said. “Cliff would get nine, and then I would get nine. We might not have had a bunch of yards, but it might have been 75 yards or so for Cliff and 70 for me.

“But what we did was pound the ball and pound the ball and wear people out. We didn’t score very many points, other than the Wake Forest game, so we would just keep the ball away from people.”

Regardless, it worked for Clemson and when the Tigers got down to the end of the regular season their talented depth in the running game came to the forefront. McCall, who scored Clemson’s only touchdown at No. 8 North Carolina that year, went down in the same game with broken ribs and missed the Maryland and South Carolina games. But Mack stepped in and the Tigers did not miss a beat the following two weeks.

Against rival South Carolina in the regular season finale, Austin tweaked his ankle midway through the contest and McSwain took over. All he did was carry the ball 25 times for a career-high 151 yards, while scoring two second half touchdowns in the second-ranked Tigers’ 29-13 victory over the Gamecocks on November 21, 1981.

“I was fortunate in the South Carolina game because Cliff got hurt,” said McSwain. “That is the only reason I got that many (carries). That’s three of four ballgames for me. I was raising my hand that I wanted out. Those were too many carries.”

Though he may have been tired, he did not look it, especially when he plowed over several USC defenders on his way to a 23-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter that sealed Clemson’s victory and wrapped up a perfect 11-0 regular season.

What made it even more special for McSwain was the fact his little brother, Rod, blocked a punt in the first quarter that changed the momentum of the game. The ball rolled into the end zone where Johnny Rembert fell on the ball for the Tigers’ first score.

Though Clemson missed the extra point and still trailed 7-6 at the time, every one of the 56,971 fans could feel that the Tigers were going to end their special season with a win in Columbia.

“You could not ask for a better way to end the year than to be down there and have Rod block a punt and then I had the day that I had,” Chuck McSwain said. “When I look back, it brings back good memories. We were very fortunate.”

From there Clemson got a 24-yard field goal from Bob Paulling and then quarterback Homer Jordan scampered off the left side for an 11-yard touchdown to put the Tigers in front 15-7 at the break.

After South Carolina appeared to make things interesting with a Gordon Beckham 10-yard pass in the third quarter, the Tigers, behind McSwain’s running and Jordan’s passing, went right back down the field and seized control of the game with a one-yard McSwain run.

The Clemson tailback then added on with his 23-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter to send Clemson on to the 1982 Orange Bowl, where it played Nebraska in the national championship.

“Rod blocked a punt and I had a couple of long runs. It was a great day for the McSwain brothers,” he said.

–file photo courtesy Clemson Athletic Communications

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