Monday Morning Quarterback
It is finally here. It is game week!
This Saturday the 2021 football season will begin for third-ranked Clemson, as the Tigers play No. 5 Georgia in the Duke’s Mayo Kickoff Classic at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
Clemson vs. Georgia, what a way to kick off the football season, right?
Like a lot of you, I have a lot of great memories of this rivalry from my childhood. These two played some of the best games in college football back when they played every year.
“The Georgia game always seemed to make or break our season,” said former Clemson head coach Danny Ford, who was 4-4-1 against Georgia in his 11 seasons at Clemson. “I don’t know why that was the case, but for the most part that was the case.”
From 1977-’87 no rivalry in the country was more intense or competitive than the Clemson-Georgia Series. In those 11 years, the two teams battled to a 5-5-1 record, which started with a one-point Clemson victory in 1977 in Athens and ended with a one-point Clemson victory in 1987 in Clemson.
But the rivalry was not the best because the record broke even. No, the reason was due to how highly contested each game was and what it meant for the victors. In 1980, Georgia survived Clemson, 20-16, in Athens and went on to win the National Championship.
In 1981, Clemson used nine Bulldog turnovers to knock off No. 4 Georgia, 13-3, in Death Valley on its way to a National Championship.
The average margin of victory in the series during that 11-year stretch was 4.7 points per game. Nine of the 11 games were decided by a touchdown or less. The only two that were not were the 1978 and the 1981 games.
Clemson had a 3-1-1 record in Death Valley vs. the Bulldogs during that stretch, while Georgia owned a 4-2 mark in Athens. The Bulldogs scored 171 points (15.5 points per game), while Clemson scored 159 points (14.5 points per game).
“If we beat Georgia, we generally went on to have a pretty special year, but if we lost to them, it seemed as if it lingered longer than we would have liked and it would beat us more than once,” Ford said.
That was the case in 1984 when Georgia’s Kevin Butler kicked a then NCAA record 60-yard field goal with 11 seconds left to beat second-ranked Clemson, 26-23. The Tigers ran the ensuing kickoff back into Georgia territory and the Bulldogs were flagged for a personal foul after the tackle. But after a long debate, officials ruled the foul occurred after time had run out and the game was ruled over.
Clemson kicker Donald Igwebuike, who led the nation in field goal percentage that year (17-18), was denied the opportunity to kick a 42-yard field goal. The Tigers lost their next game at Georgia Tech a week later, ending a 20-game ACC winning streak. Clemson went on to finish the season 7-4.
In 1986, David Treadwell beat the Bulldogs with a 46-yard field goal as time expired, 31-28. In 1987, he kicked a 21-yard field goal with two seconds left to beat Georgia, 21-20. Those two games marked the first and last time Clemson beat the Bulldogs in consecutive years since winning seven consecutive years from 1900-’06.
The Tigers went on to win the ACC Championship in each of those seasons, while posting an 8-2-2 record in 1986 and a 10-2 mark in 1987.
“Our kids always looked forward to playing Georgia because Georgia represented the best in the SEC at the time,” Ford said. “They were the standard to live up to and our kids knew if they could beat them, then they could play and beat anyone in the country.”
The Bulldogs may not be the standard in the SEC anymore, but they are the No. 5 team in the country, and win this Saturday for the 2021 Tigers will mean as much as a any of those five wins from 1977-’87.
Also, this is the first time in the history of this rivalry that both teams come in ranked in the top 5.
“It’s what you dream about as a kid, and as a coach, you love these moments,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said recently to the ACC Network. “So, we’re excited about it. And this is two teams that have big-time aspirations, and who knows, could play again down the road somewhere.”
Boy, wouldn’t that be fun?
Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!