Remember When? 1981 Clemson-Carolina

The 1981 game will long be remembered for what the win represented more than what happened on the field on that crisp autumn afternoon in Columbia.

Flashback: Clemson vs. South Carolina
November 21, 1981
Tigers 29, Gamecocks 13

With its 29-13 victory over South Carolina, No. 2 Clemson capped its first undefeated and untied season since the 1948 team posted an 11-0 record, assuring itself a bid to the Orange Bowl and a date with Nebraska on January 1.

The Gamecocks on the other hand entered the game with a 6-4 record and where struggling to find any offensive balance. Jim Carlen's team averaged less than 150 yards a game on the ground and since it took nearly the whole season to settle on a quarterback, the passing game wasn't anything to brag about either.

But USC still felt it had a chance against the Tigers. They had already knocked off the No. 3 ranked team a month earlier with a 31-13 win over North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and felt if someone was going to spoil the Tigers' magical season, who better then them.

"I'm sure they wanted to beat us bad," Clemson All-American linebacker Jeff Davis said. "But there was no way we were going to let that happen. "It all started the year before against them. That (1980) season balanced our attitude even though we had success early. There was no reason for us to get the big head. There was still a lot of work to be done and we were fortunate to be in the position we were in."

But it appeared early on the Gamecocks might be up to the task of knocking off Clemson when they got the 53,000 at Williams-Brice Stadium into the game early with a Johnnie Wright one-yard touchdown run on their opening drive.

USC's 7-0 lead held up for a little while, but on its next possession Clemson defensive back Rod McSwain blocked Chris Norman's punt and Johnnie Rembert chased it down and recovered it in the end zone for Clemson's first touchdown. Ironically, the blocked punt was reminiscent of Phil Prince's block punt in the 1948 game which Oscar Thompson scooped up and ran it for the winning touchdown in a 13-7 victory in Columbia keeping those Tigers' undefeated season alive.

Like Prince's block, Rembert's began at the USC 28-yard line and came off the left side of the line as well.

South Carolina hung on to a 7-6 lead after the extra point attempt was no good, but the momentum had shifted and the Tigers did not wait too long to take control of the game. Three minutes into the second quarter, Bob Pauling made a 24-yard field goal for a 9-7 lead.

With the half winding down, Hollis Hall intercepted a Gordon Beckham pass and returned it 27 yards to the USC 20. Six plays later, Homer Jordan sneaked his way into the end zone from 11 yards out and after a missed two-point try the Tigers took a 15-7 lead into the break. The Gamecocks started the second half much like the first, marching down the field where Beckham capped the drive with a 10-yard pass to Horace Smith. USC's attempt to tie the game with a two-point conversion failed and Clemson remained in front 15-13.

Clemson did not wait long, however, to regain control. The Tigers took the ensuing possession and marched 84 yards in 19 plays with Chuck McSwain capping the drive with a one-yard run for a 22-13 lead.

Clemson put the game away in the fourth quarter with another McSwain touchdown – an electrifying 23-yard run for the final score of the afternoon. McSwain rushed for 151 yards on 25 carries and was named the game's MVP.

After the game the Tigers accepted a bid to play Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.

"That game made everyone happy for so many reasons," Clemson coach Danny Ford said. "It was South Carolina first of all. It was the first time we went undefeated in a good many years. We already had the conference championship and then accepted the bid to the Orange Bowl."

That next week, No. 1 Pittsburgh was soundly upset by Penn State, 42-14, bolting Clemson to the top spot in the land for the first time in its history. It also meant the Tigers had an opportunity to win the school's first national championship in any sport when they made the journey to Miami's Orange Bowl.

"Everyone was happy, but I don't ever recall us talking about a national championship that much even when we were at that point," Ford said. "It was still out in front of us, but just like the other games we played against North Carolina, Maryland and South Carolina, we were more concentrating on who we had to play instead of what it might mean because we had to beat (Nebraska) first."

Which, as everyone knows, they did, giving Clemson its only national championship with a 22-15 victory in the Orange Bowl. Top Stories