Clemson first played Virginia on the football field in 1955, a 20-7 Clemson victory in Charlottesville, Va. At the time, no one knew it was the start of the longest win streak to open a series in the history of college football.
The Tigers went on to win the first 29 meetings in the series, which coincidently ended with a 20-7 Virginia win in 1990 in Charlottesville.
Clemson’s 29-game winning streak against Virginia between 1955-’89 is tied for the sixth-longest winning streak in NCAA history for one team over another, trailing Notre Dame over Navy (43), Nebraska over Kansas (36), Oklahoma over Kansas State (32), Florida over Kentucky (31), Penn State over Temple (31) and matching Nebraska over Kansas State (29).
Clemson has outscored Virginia 1,303-699, all-time in the series. Clemson’s 604-point differential in the series is its sixth-largest against any opponent in school history, trailing point margins against Wake Forest, Presbyterian, Furman, South Carolina and The Citadel.
Former Clemson coach Frank Howard, who coached the Tigers from 1940-’69, was 11-0 against Virginia. Following Clemson’s dramatic 1958 win over the Cavaliers, a game in which they won 20-15 following a late bomb, Howard called UVA “white meat” because UVA has always been such easy pickings.
However, beating Virginia 29 straight times was not always that easy. The Cavaliers nearly knocked off the Tigers in 1966 as they held an 18-point lead at Death Valley. But the Tigers rallied in the last 18 minutes of the game for a 40-35 victory. Clemson scored the game’s final 22 points.
“That white meat is getting darker all the time,” Howard said in a 1990 article in Sports Illustrated.
After Howard retired, Clemson continued to roll over the Cavaliers. Danny Ford also went 11-0 against UVA, but there were a couple of times when it appeared the Cavaliers were going to end the streak.
In the 1980 game, the Tigers trailed Virginia 24-10 entering the fourth quarter, but scored 17 unanswered points in the final 15 minutes for a dramatic 27-24 victory. Obed Ariri made a 52-yard field goal with 0:06 left to beat the upset minded Cavaliers again.
In 1988, Virginia was ahead 7-3 with just a little more than two minutes to play when Rodney Williams found Chip Davis wide open after the Cavaliers failed to cover the Clemson wideout near the goal line.
However, since Virginia’s 1990 win to break the streak, the series has even out a bit. Clemson has a 10-8-1 advantage in the series in the last 18 meetings, which has been infrequent the last 10 years due to the ACC’s un-balanced schedule.
The only tie in the series took place in 1991, a 20-20 score at Clemson that was played on Homecoming. The Tigers had 511 yards of total offense in that game yet did not win, one of only three games in Clemson history in which Clemson picked up at least 500 yards and did not earn a victory.
Saturday’s game at Death Valley will represent the fifth meeting between the two teams in Dabo Swinney’s tenure at Clemson. Swinney first faced Virginia as a head coach in his fourth game as Clemson’s interim head coach, earning a 13-3 victory in 2008.
Clemson won, 34-21, the next year in a home finale that gave Clemson its first ACC Atlantic Division title. Clemson secured a 59-10 win in the teams’ most recent regular season meeting in 2013.
The Tigers then beat the Cavaliers 62-17 in last year’s ACC Championship Game in Charlotte. It marked Clemson’s fourth straight win in the series and its fifth consecutive ACC Championship.
–Clemson Athletic Communications contributed to this story
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