ACC: David Treadwell

ATHENS, Ga. -- Scour the locker rooms at Georgia and Clemson and it might be difficult to find a player who knows much about their historic rivalry.

“You know me, I don’t know much about Georgia’s history from before I got here,” Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray chuckled in one such response about the longtime rivalry between schools separated by only about 70 miles.

Murray is far from alone in that regard. The 22-year-old Floridian was 13 the last time Georgia and Clemson met, in 2003, and was not even alive when the annual 1980s meetings between the Bulldogs and Tigers often carried national-title implications.

Fans of a certain age might harken back to those days on Saturday, however, when the rivalry resumes -- ending the longest gap between games since the series started in 1897 -- and No. 5 Georgia visits No. 8 Clemson in Death Valley.

[+] EnlargeClemson, Danny Ford
AP Photo/Kathy WillensCoach Danny Ford and Clemson beat Georgia 13-3 in 1981 and went on to win the national championship.
“Georgia was really good every year, so it meant that doggone it, somebody was going to get a lot of publicity and a lot of press, whoever won that football game,” said former Tigers coach Danny Ford, who will be enshrined in Clemson’s Ring of Honor on Saturday. “You could still be a good football team if you lost that game, but it just put a cramp in everything and it was so early in the year -- the first or second game or third game every year -- and you kind of knew what kind of football team [you had].

“It was kind of like a Wednesday where the kids in school call it Hump Day, you know? You’re in the middle of the week, get your classes over with and you’re about halfway to the weekend. That was the same kind of a hump game, where if you get off and win that football game, you’ve got a great chance to have a good year.”

Back then, your season could be more than good if you slipped away with a win. Thanks to a 67-yard punt return touchdown by Scott Woerner and a 98-yard Woerner interception return that set up another score, Georgia edged Clemson 20-16 in 1980 despite failing to register a single first down in the opening half.

“At the end, they’re back down there and Jeff Hipp makes an interception on about the 1-yard line right at the end of the game,” recalled former Georgia coach Vince Dooley, who posted a 15-6-1 record against Clemson in his 25 seasons as the Bulldogs’ coach. “But statistic-wise, they just knocked us all over the place.”

The 10th-ranked Bulldogs went on to win the national title that season after barely surviving the Tigers’ upset bid. And Clemson returned the favor the following year, generating nine turnovers to beat Herschel Walker and No. 4 Georgia 13-3 en route to a national title of its own.

Clemson’s 1981 win marked the only time that Georgia lost in the regular season during Walker’s three seasons on campus.

“They’re the only team that he played more than once in his college career and didn’t score a touchdown against,” said UGA grad Kyle King, whose new book detailing the Georgia-Clemson series history, “Fighting Like Cats and Dogs,” was published, oddly enough, by the Clemson University Digital Press. “So they really were the ones who -- to the extent anyone had Herschel’s number -- they’re the ones who had his number.”

[+] EnlargeVince Dooley
Dale Zanine/US Presswire for ESPN.comIn 25 years as coach at Georgia , Vince Dooley posted a 15-6-1 record against Clemson.
Just how close were the two teams in their respective pursuits of the national title? Georgia scored exactly 316 points during the 1980 regular season before beating Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl to claim its first national title since 1942. The following year, Clemson matched that scoring total to the number, notching the very same 316 points in the regular season before beating Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to claim the school’s first national championship.

The series continued to produce memorable outcomes on an annual basis throughout the 1980s. Take 1982, for example, when No. 7 Georgia hosted No. 11 Clemson in the first night game in decades at Sanford Stadium. Much like Saturday’s game at Clemson, the 1982 game aired before a prime-time national TV audience on ABC -- that year on Labor Day evening.

Bulldogs defenders picked off four passes by Clemson quarterback and Athens native Homer Jordan en route to a 13-7 win and another undefeated regular season. Once again, the Georgia-Clemson winner played in the game that would determine the national champion, although the Bulldogs lost this time, 27-23 to Penn State in the Sugar Bowl.

Nonetheless, those first three games set the standard for one of the nastiest rivalries of the 1980s -- one where defense, big special-teams plays and general hard-nosed aggression became trademarks.

“I remember it was always a tough game for Georgia. It was a tough game, period,” said Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon, who appeared in the series’ last two games, in 2002 and 2003, and whose father Willie preceded him as a Georgia player and coach. “It was always one of the biggest games out there in the country and it’s a lot like this year, to be honest with you. You never knew who was going to come out on top. Both teams always had high expectations going into each year, let alone that game. It was always a hard-fought war out there on the field.”

There was the 1984 game where Georgia beat No. 2 Clemson 26-23 on a 60-yard Kevin Butler field goal -- a play that produced what King called Bulldogs announcer Larry Munson’s most memorable call from a home game, when he estimated that Butler would “try to kick one 100,000 miles” and then proclaimed that “the stadium is worse than bonkers” once the kick cleared the uprights.

Clemson enjoyed its own kicking-game heroics in 1986 and 1987, when David Treadwell booted game-winning field goals at the end of the Tigers’ respective 31-28 and 21-20 victories.

“We were so evenly matched, and so many came down to a field goal or a touchdown, and we were so evenly matched that all of them kind of run together in my thoughts,” Ford recalled. “They’d win one and we’d win one.”

That proved true throughout Ford’s 11-year tenure at Clemson. A rivalry that Georgia once dominated -- the Bulldogs are 41-17-4 all-time against the Tigers and went 11-1-1 against Frank Howard, the winningest coach in Clemson history -- was extremely even in the 1980s.

Ford went 4-4-1 against Georgia while at Clemson. The scoring differential during that period? Georgia 153, Clemson 152.

“It was more about respectability for us because Georgia had the upper hand for so long back when Coach Howard [was here],” Ford said. “I tell the story all the time that Coach Howard would have to play Georgia and Georgia Tech, who was in the SEC back then, Alabama and Auburn and lose four games to have enough money to make his budget and then win the ACC conference. But back then he had to do that and he couldn’t hardly ever get them to come play at our place. It was just a thing of respectability I think, more so for us in the '80s."

Respectability is no longer a problem for either of the programs who will renew their longtime rivalry on Saturday in Death Valley. Georgia’s Mark Richt led his team within an eyelash of playing for the BCS title last year, and the Bulldogs enter Saturday’s game with their highest preseason ranking since opening the 2008 campaign in the No. 1 spot. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney has led the Tigers to a 21-6 record over the last two seasons and, blessed with a Heisman Trophy contender in quarterback Tajh Boyd, should boast one of the nation’s most explosive offenses.

The programs no longer resemble the Ford- and Dooley-era squads that relied on defense and the kicking game to win low-scoring games, but considering the standing the Georgia-Clemson game once held in the national championship race, it seems fitting that Saturday’s reunion occupies a marquee spot in college football’s opening weekend.

“I grew up with this game being played pretty much every year, and it was at a time that Georgia beat Florida every year, and Georgia beat Georgia Tech every year, so Clemson and Auburn were really the two games that you went into the year thinking, ‘Boy, I hope we can get out of that one with a W,’ ” King said. “I didn’t want to lose that, and that was really what ultimately inspired me to go back and write this book.

“We’re going into a season where it looks like you have two top-10 teams, two frontrunners in their conferences, two top-drawer quarterbacks going up against one another,” he added. “I think it’s important to remind fans that this isn’t a new thing. We butted heads with these guys in big games before, and hopefully we’ll get the chance to keep doing it in the future.”

Most clutch ACC players: Historical edition

August, 1, 2008
8/01/08
12:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Notice these guys are in alphabetical order.

Brock Berlin, Miami -- In 2003, he helped Miami score 28 unanswered points for a 38-33 comeback win against his former team, Florida.

James Davis, Clemson -- Davis scored the game-winner in 2005 against rival South Carolina, a 2-yard run with 5:58 left that gave Clemson the 13-9 win. He also scored the game winner in 2006 against Florida State, a 1-yard run with eight seconds left for the 27-20 win.

 
 Boston College/Getty Images
 Doug Flutie celebrates his last-second touchdown pass to defeat Miami in 1984.

Doug Flutie, Boston College -- Is there a play that defines "clutch" better than Flutie's Hail Mary pass against Miami? Flutie left school as the NCAA's all-time passing yardage leader with 10,579 yards.

Chris Gould, Virginia -- Virginia wouldn't have been the ACC's most current clutch team had it not been for Gould. He kicked 16 field goals last season and his kicks in five games were the difference (game winners vs. Middle Tennessee and UConn, 5 FGs in 22-20 win over UNC, early FG vs. Maryland in 18-17 win and early FG vs. WFU in 17-16 win).

Sebastian Janikowski, Florida State -- He set Florida State and ACC records with 27 field goals in 1998. A year later, Janikowski made 84.4 percent (27-of-32) and led the nation with an average of 2.23 per game.

Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech -- The No. 1 draft pick finished with 178 career receptions for 2,927 yards and 28 touchdowns. He ranks first in school history in career receiving yards, second in receptions, first in touchdown receptions, and first in most career 100-yard receiving games with 13.

Frank Reich, Maryland -- Can't forget the King of the Comeback. In 1984, trailing defending national champ Miami 31-0 at halftime, Reich completed 12 of 16 passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns for a 42-40 win and a trip to the Orange Bowl. Eight years later, he orchestrated one of the NFL's greatest comebacks. His Buffalo Bills trailed Houston, 35-3, but Reich came in for an injured Jim Kelly and won, 41-38, in overtime.

Philip Rivers, NC State -- The number of clutch plays this guys made is worth a separate entry, as he made six comeback wins his freshman year alone.

Matt Ryan, Boston College -- His two-touchdown come-from-behind win over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg last season with 2:11 left on the clock will always be remembered.

David Treadwell, Clemson -- Treadwell kicked game-winning field goals inside the last five seconds against Georgia in consecutive years. He kicked a 46-yard field goal on the last play in 1986 at Georgia, then kicked a 21-yarder with two seconds left to beat the Bulldogs in 1987. He also kicked a field goal on the last play of the game in 1985 to beat Virginia Tech.

Most historically clutch team in the ACC

August, 1, 2008
8/01/08
10:59
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

You won't believe it.

The most schizophrenic team out there -- the program that can't seem to win the "big one" -- also happens to be the most historically clutch team in the ACC.

NC State gave the Clemson Tigers some serious competition for this honor, as the Wolfpack's 7-4 record in overtime games is the best in the conference -- and four of those OT wins were on the road. There were also numerous amazing Philip Rivers-led comebacks that must be taken into consideration.

However, when you're looking at each program through its entire history, Clemson actually does win the close ones. Still not convinced? Take a look:

  • Since 1948, Clemson has had 67 fourth-quarter wins, and five overtime wins during which the Tigers erased a deficit or tie.
  • All of those games were decided by seven points or less, or in overtime.
  • 24 of those wins came with less than a minute left in the game.
  • Three of them came with zero seconds left on the clock.

There were a few seasons during that span that stood out:

1986 -- David Treadwell kicked three game-winning field goals (46 yards, 21 yards and 31 yards) to beat Georgia, Maryland and South Carolina. He put it through the uprights on the road against Georgia and Maryland with 10 seconds or less on the clock. The Tigers were ACC champs that year.

1987 -- A second straight season in which the Tigers were ACC champs in large part because of Treadwell, who kicked game-winners against Georgia and North Carolina. Tracy Johnson's four-yard run against Duke with 6:46 remaining gave Clemson the 17-10 win.

2005 -- With 2 seconds left on the clock, Jad Dean made a 42-yard field goal to beat Texas A&M, 25-24. Reggie Merriweather's 38-yard burst with 2:58 left beat Maryland, 28-24, and a 2-yard run by James Davis with 5:58 remaining put Clemson over rival South Carolina, 13-9.

Granted, that was then, and this is now. Can the Tigers come through in the clutch this season? If not, who is currently the most clutch team in the conference? Check back later to find out.

SPONSORED HEADLINES