Clemson Flashback: Tigers prove they’re the real ACC Champions

Clemson Flashback: Tigers prove they’re the real ACC Champions

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Clemson Flashback: Tigers prove they’re the real ACC Champions

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The ACC record books show Maryland was crowned as the conference champions in 1983 with a perfect 5-0 record. However, everyone who was around in 1983, knows otherwise.

The best team in the ACC that year was the same team who owned the conference in 1981 and 1982. Clemson again steamrolled through the ACC, going a perfect 7-0, including a 52-27 thumping to the Terrapins on November 12, 1983.

“They’re undefeated against ACC teams,” Maryland defensive end Brian Baker said to the Washington Post afterward. “We are the champions, but we can’t say that. It hurts that they took something from us last year we felt belonged to us, and damn if they didn’t do it again today.”

The Tigers, who were ranked No. 17 at the time, were ineligible to win the ACC in 1983, and their seven wins over league teams are not counted in the official record books of the conference. However, Clemson won its 19th straight ACC game by totaling 544 yards of offense. And its 52 points were the most scored on the Terrapins since 1971.

Tigers’ quarterback Mike Eppley completed 11-of-16 passes for 194 yards and three touchdowns, while fullback Kevin Mack rushed for a career-high 186 yards and three scores. In a game that was supposed to be close, it was never a fair fight.

“It would be nice to say Clemson did something we didn’t expect, or threw something new at us,” said Maryland defensive tackle Pete Koch. “But they came straight at us. And beat us. That’s the sad, sad truth.”

Clemson, who won its seventh straight game, led 42-7 at one point in the third quarter.

“We took a good old-fashioned lickin’ today,” Maryland head coach Bobby Ross said. “Our tackling was terrible, absolutely terrible . . . the worst I’ve ever seen. I told them that 99 percent of tackling is wanting to, and I think we reached a point where we didn’t want to.”

The Tigers came out of the gate fast. On their second possession, Eppley threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to tailback Kenny Flowers. The freshman running back caught the ball on a screen play and then followed his blocks before exploding down the far sideline.

Clemson made it 14-0 when Eppley rolled one way and then threw back to the opposite side of the field to tight end K.D. Dunn, who went the remaining 13 yards for the touchdown.

The 11th-ranked Terrapins cut the lead to 14-7 thanks to an 11-yard Boomer Esiason to Greg Hill pass, which capped a 79-yard drive. Later, with his team backed up to their nine-yard line, Esiason spotted Hill running wide open around the 40-yard line. Esiason threw a perfect pass into Hill’s arms, but he dropped it. The play could have tied the game, instead it marked the beginning of Clemson’s dominance.

A shanked punt followed by a personal foul set the Tigers up at the Maryland 23. A few plays later Mack went in from six yards out for a 21-7 lead with 5:09 to play before halftime.

On the Terrapins’ next possession, Clemson defensive tackle James Robinson broke through the line and caused a fumble before Esiason could hand the ball properly to running back Willie Joyner. William Devane recovered the ball at the Maryland 16 and five players later Mack carried the football in from the one to make the score 28-7.

Clemson continued to pour it on in the second half. After forcing a three-and-out to start the third quarter, Eppley found Terrance Roulhac for his third touchdown pass of the afternoon and a 35-7 lead.

Later in the third quarter, the Tigers increased their lead to 42-7 on a 14-yard Stacey Driver touchdown. Maryland added a few late scores to make the game look closer than it was. But Mack put an exclamation point on the victory when he rumbled 56 yards for a touchdown while stepping over and through Maryland would-be-tacklers on his way to the end zone.

What made the run even more impressive, Mack lost a shoe on the play, but that could not even slow him down.

Prior to the game, Clemson released a world record 363,729 balloons as part of “Spirit Blitz Day” at Death Valley. With 83,000 fans standing in the Valley, the Tigers charged down the hill in their all-orange uniforms while the balloons covered up the sky. It is still one of the more iconic scenes in Clemson history.

The atmosphere charged the Tigers, who proved with their impressive wins over nationally ranked teams in North Carolina and Maryland, they were the best team in the ACC in 1983.

“Yep, we whupped everybody in the ACC. And with the whuppin’ we put on them today, I think they really know we’re the ACC champs,” Clemson defensive tackle Ray Brown said.

The following week, Clemson went to Columbia and beat rival South Carolina, 22-13, for their eighth straight victory to close the season. In a three-year span, the Tigers posted a national best 30-2-2 record. They finished the 1983 season ranked No. 10 by USA TODAY and No. 11 in the AP Poll.

File photo courtesy Clemson Athletic Communications 

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