Beating Oklahoma under Dabo Swinney has become the norm at Clemson. However, there was a time when no team from the ACC could take down the Sooners.
Prior to 1988, ACC teams were 0-16 against Oklahoma on the football field, including an 0-2 mark from the Tigers. The Sooners beat the Tigers 31-14 in Norman, Oklahoma in 1963, and then 52-3 in Norman in 1972.
However, things change. Clemson had become a national power in the late 1970s and in 1981 won its first national championship. The Sooners were still one of the powers in college football and won the national title in 1985. Both programs were among the best in college football when the Citrus Bowl arranged a date between the two schools on January 1, 1989.
The Sooners were No. 10 in the country and came in with a 9-2 record. The Tigers were ranked ninth in the AP Poll and were also 9-2. Both teams relied on a strong running game and a stingy defense. The game played out exactly that way.
In the end, it was Clemson’s defense that was a little bit better than the Sooners. The Tigers held a rushing attack that averaged 343 yards a game from its wishbone style of offense to a season-low 116 yards.
Clemson did not do much better on offense, but it did run for 187 yards and running back Terry Allen scored the game’s only touchdown, a 4-yard run, with 10:28 to play in the game. Allen’s touchdown gave Clemson a 13-6 lead.
The score stayed that way, but it did not come without some drama. Clemson had two more possessions that did little to run out the clock, so on the Sooners’ last opportunity to tie or win the game quarterback Jamelle Holieway got them on the move.
On fourth-and-10 from his own 20-yard line, the Oklahoma quarterback ran for 11 yards to keep the drive alive. He then proceeded to complete seven passes and moved his team to the Clemson 14.
With time winding down, he threw three straight incompletions. On the last play of the game, he avoided the rush of linebacker Jesse Hatcher, and as he was falling to the ground, he threw a prayer into the end zone.
The pass floated in the air for what seemed like forever towards wide receiver Carl Cabbiness. However, freshman cornerback Dexter Davis leaped into the air and knocked the pass to the ground, securing Clemson’s 13-6 victory.
Barry Switzer and his players were not very gracious in losing. Instead of congratulating Clemson for winning a hard-fought game, the Hall of Fame coach instead tried to boast how great the Oklahoma program was and how Clemson could not compare.
“Clemson would have to win 71 consecutive games and lose one to tie what we have accomplished the last 16 years,” he said.
Linebacker Kurt Kasper told USA TODAY after the game that he “wasn’t impressed with Clemson at all. Clemson had some players who were supposed to be All-Americans, but we treated them like rag dolls.”
Yet Clemson won the game, held Oklahoma to a season-low in rushing yards and yards per carry and rushed for nearly 200 yards itself.
“Clemson is gaining respect and what happened today will help,” quarterback Rodney Williams said after the game. “People will take notice, not just because we beat Oklahoma, but because we beat them doing what we always do … running the ball.”
Clemson finished the season with a 10-2 record and No. 9 in the final AP Poll. It was the first time the Tigers finished in the top 10 since 1982.
Since then, Clemson has played Oklahoma in the 2014 Russell Athletic Bowl and the 2016 Orange Bowl, both easy victories.
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