Though a special teams gaffe cost them a game at NC State a few weeks before, No. 16 Clemson found itself in a familiar position when it traveled to College Park, Md., on November 12, 1988. The Tigers were once again in line for an ACC Championship.
To complete their third conference championship in three years, they needed to get past Maryland, a team who was on a roll and was 4-1 in their five ACC games to that point. Clemson was 5-1 in the conference and 7-2 overall.
Dating back to 1978, the Clemson-Maryland winner won the ACC nine times, including every year from 1981-’87 at that point. The Tigers owned four of those titles (1981 ’82, ’86 and ‘87) while Maryland won three straight conference crowns from 1983-’85.
Early on things did not look good for Clemson. The Tigers trailed 14-13 as Maryland quarterback Neil O’Donnell directed the Terps on two first-half scoring drives.
However, behind the play of flanker Gary Cooper, Clemson’s offense got rolling in the second half. Cooper had two long touchdown runs on reverses, allowing the Tigers to gain control of the game. They also got a long touchdown run from running back Terry Allen, who went over 1,000 yards on the season and 2,000 yards in his career. Allen was the first Clemson running back in history to rush for more than 2,000 yards as a sophomore.
Leading 21-17, Clemson broke the game open with 28 fourth-quarter points for a 49-25 victory. The Tigers finished the afternoon with 373 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Rodney Williams also completed 9 of 14 passes for 139 yards, as Clemson racked up 512 total yards.
On defense, linebacker Levon Kirkland totaled 13 tackles on his way to ACC Player of the Week honors. He also had one sack, three tackles for loss and one interception.
“I guess I’m as proud of this football team as any we’ve had,” Danny Ford said after the game. “It has been a tough year. We were picked to be a very fine team, but we got beat twice early and had to fight and scratch for everything all season.”
With the win over the Terrapins, Clemson earned an automatic bid to the Citrus Bowl as the ACC Champions. Thanks to their win over No. 10 Oklahoma in the Citrus Bowl, the Tigers finished the year 10-2, the program’s second straight 10-win season. It marked the first time Clemson produced back-to-back 10-win seasons in school history.
–photo courtesy of Clemson Athletic Communications
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