|When Clemson visited Athens in '94, Georgia -- |
even the Bulldog defense -- had its way with the Tigers.
Besides perhaps Kyle at Dawg Sports, there may be no other Bulldog fan more thrilled than yours truly that the Georgia and Clemson meetings for 2013 and 2014 now appear probable.
Growing up following the Bulldogs during the 1980s, there was personally no other opponent I annually looked forward to Georgia facing more than Clemson. The Tigers handing the 1980-to-1982 Bulldogs their only regular-season loss coupled with the fact the opposing school was located only 75 miles away (and they were good -- unlike Georgia Tech at the time) first stirred my hatred for the foe. As I've mentioned before, if Georgia-Georgia Tech is recognized as clean, old-fashioned hate, the Georgia-Clemson football rivalry, at least from the late-70s to the late-80s, was simply plain hatred.
One of my first Sanford Stadium memories was the season opener of 1982 when the Bulldogs hosted the defending “You might be Number One but you smell like Number Two” Tigers. There was absolutely no complaining from this 7-year-old when my parents told me I had to take a nap the afternoon of the game -- I had school the next day -- in order to attend the 9:11 p.m. Labor Day kickoff for the first night-time affair at home in more than 30 years.
In 1984, Sanford Stadium witnessed a miraculous kick against Clemson, followed by the Tigers winning with a game-winning field goal of their own in 1986 (and then the same result at Death Valley the next year).
The final results of the rivalry were just as close as the schools' locations for more than a decade. For 11 consecutive meetings from 1977 to 1987, a normally lopsided series was dead even (5-5-1), while no team ever won by more than 12 points, and the average winning margin was less than five points.
However, after a two-year hiatus, the Georgia-Clemson game had not only become a non-annual event, but one featuring the occasional rout. In 1990, the Tigers pounded a poor Bulldog squad 34-3 in a game even more one-sided than its score. The following year, freshman Eric Zeier led unranked Georgia to a shocking upset win by more than two touchdowns over 6th-ranked and undefeated Clemson.
In the six games between the one-time rivals since the yearly meetings have ended, the Bulldogs are 5-1, including winners of five in a row. The average winning margin of the last six games is by nearly three touchdowns. Likely, my personal favorite Georgia-Clemson rout:
In Georgia's 41-14 blowout over Clemson in 1994, the Bulldogs' offensive attack was just as potent as it had been since the arrival of both quarterback Zeier and offensive coordinator Wayne McDuffie in 1991. Against a reputable Tiger defense, Zeier passed for 328 yards and two touchdowns and became the SEC's all-time leading passer during the third quarter. Other Georgia record-setters were receiver Brice Hunter, who set the school career mark with his 14th touchdown reception, while Kanon Parkman's 16 points were the most ever in a single game by a Bulldog kicker.
When Bill Montgomery and Marisa Simpson are your team's top two rushers ahead of Terrell Davis and Hines Ward, odds are your offense had some success.
Most notably, however, was the play by Georgia on the other side of the ball.
Of course, the '94 Clemson offense was sub-par at best. Regardless, the Bulldog defense from that season was downright dismal, arguably the worst defense in the modern era of UGA football. Granted, it was an inexperienced unit -- only three of its 11 starters had been starters the season before -- run by a Swamp Fox, first-year (and only year) defensive coordinator Marion Campbell, who five years removed from coaching football, decided to shift the Bulldog defenders into an unfamiliar 3-4 formation.
The results in 1994 were defensive performances that were simply tragic.
The week prior to hosting Clemson, Georgia had allowed Alabama's Jay Barker to pass for nearly 400 yards and rally the Crimson Tide to a one-point win in Tuscaloosa after the Bulldogs once led by two touchdowns. The week after the Clemson game, Georgia gave up 415 rushing yards to Vanderbilt (five weeks after yielding 383 yards rushing in a loss to Tennessee at home) in maybe the most embarrassing loss in the history of the program.
Nevertheless, for this one game right smack in the middle of the season, the old Swamp Fox and his unit of young pups shined... And as an added bonus, especially for some of us Georgia followers, it just happened to be against hated Clemson, or Clempson, or Clempsun, whichever you prefer. The Tigers were held to 252 total yards, committed four turnovers, and scored both of their touchdowns in the final quarter when the contest had long been decided.
The 1994 Georgia-Clemson game reminds me that as grand as the sport of college football might be, it's just as bewildering and unpredictable. Just when your team is down and the odds seem totally stacked against it (and although it's supposedly "sold out," your 86,117-seat stadium appears to be only half full just prior to kickoff against a bitter rival), you never know what kind of performance you'll witness on any given Saturday...
...and whatever the case may be, hope it's not followed up with a loss to Vanderbilt on Homecoming.