After beating Florida State in Tallahassee, Fla., in Week 2 of the 1989 season, Danny Ford told the media he hoped his Clemson team did not get overconfident.
There was no sign of being overconfident in the two weeks following their win over the Seminoles. The Tigers hammered Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., and returned to Clemson the following week and easily disposed of Maryland.
The Tigers combined to outscore Virginia Tech and Maryland by a score of 58-14, and when they went to Duke the next week, they quickly jumped on top of the Blue Devils 14-0. But then complacency set in, as turnovers allowed Duke to comeback and upset No. 7 Clemson, 21-17.
But the Tigers bounced back the following week and took care of a good Virginia team at Death Valley, 34-20. They seemed to be back on track. However, a second head-scratcher of loss followed, this time to Georgia Tech.
The Yellow Jackets, who were 1-3 and just ended a 16-game ACC losing streak the week before, raced out to a 23-6 halftime lead and won the game 30-14. It was also homecoming, Clemson’s first homecoming loss in nine years.
The natives were restless and so was Ford. After the game he ripped his team. He told them how they physically got whipped and were embarrassed by a better team.
“This is the worst prepared football team I have ever put on the field. You don’t win games by being fundamentally unsound,” he said after the game. “You have got to block and tackle and knock people down in the four-down zone. We didn’t do that all week.”
Instead, Clemson found itself 5-2. After talking about a possible national championship run following the win over Florida State, the Tigers were not only eliminated from the national championship picture, but with two ACC losses they were done in the ACC Championship race too.
Clemson also dropped out of the polls for the first time in 41 weeks, dating back to the 1986 season.
“We weren’t having fun,” fullback Wesley McFadden said in the book Death Valley Days. “We were playing not to lose instead of playing to win. We (the seniors) told the coaches that the ACC was off the boards, to let’s just go out and have fun and play with reckless abandonment.”
Clemson still had four regular season games to play and it started the next week against No. 12 NC State. The Wolfpack came into Death Valley undefeated, confident, and riding high with a 6-0 record, including a 4-0 mark in the ACC.
Also, no one had the Tigers’ number like NC State did in those days. Under Dick Sheridan the Wolfpack owned a three-game winning streak against Clemson, the only conference loss the Tigers had during their three straight ACC Championships from 1986-’88.
To emphasize how big of game it was for Clemson, Ford told his team during their pregame meal they were going to wear their orange pants. It was another spark the Tigers needed.
Clemson improved to 15-2 with the orange pants on under Ford by hammering the Wolfpack, 30-10. With ESPN broadcasting the game nationally, the Tigers jumped out to a big lead and never looked back.
The Clemson defense smothered the ‘Pack’s running game, yielding just 51 yards. And though they threw the ball 56 times, they had just 297 passing yards just over five yards per attempt.
Clemson cornerback Dexter Davis had 10 tackles and picked off one pass to lead the defense.
“There was pressure on Clemson to win four straight ACC Championships,” Ford said. “We were playing not to lose, and you can’t do that. Perhaps NC State was doing that… We had nothing to lose.”
Clemson fans, now is the time to support the local businesses.
A great gift for any Tiger fan. Just one of many great items available from Clemson Variety & Frame