Clemson's starting quarterback against Georgia will be graduate student Willie Simmons. The native of Quincy, FL is in his fourth year with the program, but still has two years of eligibility, 2002 and 2003. He is a veteran of 14 games and has taken 331 snaps the previous two years, but is yet to start a game.
Simmons has significant experience, especially for a player who is yet to make a start. He played 233 snaps in 2000 when Woodrow Dantzler suffered with a high ankle sprain much of the season. Dantzler started every game, but many times had to come out of the game.
One of these games was at North Carolina in 2000 when Simmons came off the bench in the second period and threw four touchdown passes, tying a Clemson single game record. Simmons threw eight touchdown passes that year as a backup, most in Clemson history for a non-starter and most by a freshman. For his career, Simmons has thrown 147 passes and 10 have gone for touchdowns.
Despite the experience, Simmons is still considered a first time starter entering this year. Each of the last three Clemson quarterbacks have lost in their first start. In fact, the only Tiger signal caller to win his first start over the last 10 years is Louis Solomon, who defeated Duke in 1992 in his first start. Woody Dantzler, Brandon Streeter and Nealon Greene all lost their first start.
That is in direct contrast to the 1977-92 era. During those 16 years Clemson had eight quarterbacks start a game and all eight won their first start. Over the last 25 years Clemson quarterbacks are 9-4 in their first start.
As far as the entire season is concerned Clemson is 83-52-3 (.612) in seasons it has had a first-year starter at quarterback since 1976. With a starting quarterback who is in his second year or more as a starter, Clemson is 119-42-4 (.732) since 1976. Over the last 26 years Clemson has gone into a season with a veteran quarterback 14 years and, Clemson has gone to a bowl game in every year it has been eligible. Clemson has had a quarterback in its first year as a starter 12 times in the last 26 years and has gone to a bowl game in just six of those years. That includes the 2000 season when Woodrow Dantzler was in his first year as the starter for the course of the year and he took the Tigers to a 9-3 record and top 15 final ranking.
Tigers from Georgia
Georgia has been a top recruiting area for Clemson for many years. The school is just 20 miles from the Georgia/South Carolina state line and, the distance between the Clemson campus and the Georgia campus is just about an 80-minute drive.
Clemson's National Championship team of 1981 had 22 players from the state of Georgia and 23 from South Carolina. Recent Clemson All-Americans who came to Tigertown from the state of Georgia are Robert Carswell (now with the San Diego Chargers), Keith Adams (now with the Dallas Cowboys), and Chris Gardocki (now with the Cleveland Browns). Carswell and Gardocki were from Stone Mountain, while Adams was from College Park. This year is no exception when it comes to finding many Georgia natives on the Clemson roster. In fact, there are 19 players, including 18 of Clemson's 83 players on scholarship who are from the Peach State. Six of the players are starters and four are second team players. Nine of the 19 are freshmen, six first-year and three red-shirt.
This year's list of Tigers from Georgia includes starting defensive tackle and team leader Nick Eason, starting linebacker Rodney Thomas, starting defensive end Khaleed Vaughn and starting offensive tackle Gary Byrd. As listed above, Clemson's 2002 recruiting class features six players from Georgia. All six could be red-shirted this year.
Clemson Players from Georgia
Name Yr Pos Hometown High School Nathan Bennett Fr. OG Dallas Paulding County @Gary Byrd Gr OT Stn Mtn. Stn Mountain Brandon Cannon Fr. DT Stn Mtn. Stephenson Brian Carr So. FS Conyers Heritage Cole Chason Fr. PK Roswell Gr. Atlanta Christian Donnell Clark Fr. DT Griffin Griffin Tim DeBeer Fr. OT Atlanta Marist @Nick Eason Gr. DT Lyons Toombs County LeRoy Hill So. LB Haddock Baldwin @Cedric Johnson So. OG Barwick Thomas County Cent. @Wynn Kopp Sr. P Athens Clarke Central Brad Lee Fr. OT Hphzibah Hephzibah Chip Myrick Fr. OT Atlanta Lovett Tommy Sharpe So. C Albany Westover @Rodney Thomas Sr. LB Cadwell W. Laurens @Khaleed Vaughn Gr. DE Atlanta North Atlanta Nigel Vaughn So. LB Atlanta North Atlanta Rod Whipple Fr. DE Toomsboro Wilkinson County Charlie Whitehurst Fr. QB Duluth Chattahoochee @Denotes Starter
Kopp Returns to Sanford Stadium
The Clemson player most familiar with Sanford Stadium is punter Wynn Kopp. A native of Athens, Kopp was Georgia's starting punter in 1998 and 1999 before transferring to Clemson prior to the 2000 season. He sat out that season due to the NCAA transfer rule, then served as Clemson's starting punter last year.
At Georgia, Kopp played in 21 games and handled 82 punts for an average of 37.3 yards per boot. Last year at Clemson he started all 12 games and handled 49 of Clemson's 51 punts for a 38.5-yard average.
Kopp handled the punting in 11 games in Sanford Stadium in his two years at Georgia and had a 37.77 average on 53 punts in the facility. Georgia was 8-3 in those 11 games. Kopp was consistent over his two years in Sanford Stadium. In 1998 he averaged 37.774 on 31 punts in Sanford Stadium and in 1999 he averaged 37.773 on 22 punts in the facility.
For his career at Clemson and Georgia combined, Kopp averages 37.75 yards per punt and in his 11 games at Sanford Stadium he averaged 37.77. Kopp has played in three bowl games in his career and his team has won all three. He punted for the Bulldogs in their win over Virginia in the 1998 Peach Bowl, and served as the holder during Georgia's comeback win over Purdue on the 1999 (season) Hall of Fame Bowl. He was Clemson's punter in the 2001 Humanitarian Bowl.
Kopp has co-authored a book on punting with his father and brother. The book analyzes nearly 500 punts from the 2001 season, and it has been purchased by some of the NFL teams.
Clemson has had some natives of Athens who have come back to haunt the Bulldogs over the years. In 1981, quarterback Homer Jordan led Clemson to victory over the Bulldogs in a game at Clemson. In 1986 and 1987 Clemson's top tackler in the Georgia vs. Clemson game was Athens native and linebacker Norman Haynes.
Clemson vs. Georgia Series
*Georgia holds a 39-17-4 advantage in the series that dates to the 1897 season. Georgia won that first meeting 24-0 in Athens in the season opener that year. It was the fourth game in Clemson history and the first time Clemson played a game outside the state of South Carolina. Georgia's football history dates to 1892 and that first meeting with Clemson was the 25th in Bulldog history.
*Georgia holds a 25-7-1 advantage in the series in games played at Georgia, including a 19-2 lead in games played at Sanford Stadium.
*Georgia won the first three games of the series, all in Athens between 1897 and 1899. Clemson's first win was a 39-5 triumph in Athens in 1900 behind head coach John Heisman. The victory gave Heisman a 4-0 record to open his first season. Heisman was a perfect 4-0 against Georgia as Clemson coach. Clemson actually won seven games in a row in the series between 1900-06.
*Clemson won at Georgia in 1914 by a 35-13 count and then did not post a win in Athens again until 1977 when Charley Pell led the Tigers to victory 7-6.
*The two teams were 8-8-1 against each other from 1897-1914, then Georgia went on a 21-1-2 run in the series between 1915-73. Clemson's only win during that time was a 26-7 win in 1955. Clemson broke an eight-game losing streak in 1974 with a 28-24 win at Death Valley.
*The two teams split 11 games between 1977-87, more on that below. Georgia has now won the last three meetings, in 1991, 1994 and 1995. The 1995 contest was a classic, a 19-17 Georgia win at Death Valley. Both teams went on to bowl games that year. Torin Kirtsey led Georgia with 38 carries for 195 yards in that game. It is the second most carries ever in a game against Clemson.
*Clemson last defeated Georgia in 1990 by a 34-3 score under first year head coach Ken Hatfield. Clemson's defense, led by future pros Levon Kirkland, Ed McDaniel, Brentson Buckner, Chester McGlockton and Robert O'Neal, held the Bulldogs out of the endzone all day.
*This is the first of a two-game series between the two schools. Georgia will open the season at Clemson next year on August 30th.
Clemson in Sanford Stadium
Clemson has won just two of 21 games played in Sanford Stadium, but both wins were landmark last second victories that catapulted Clemson to an outstanding season. In many ways the wins gave Clemson momentum that carried over for seasons to come.
Clemson's two victories in Sanford Stadium took place in 1977 and 1986. The 1977 victory was a 7-6 triumph under first-year head coach Charley Pell. Clemson had lost the season opener at home against Maryland and was a heavy underdog against the defending SEC champions. Georgia scored with 20 seconds left, but a two-point conversion attempt failed and Clemson held on for the win. That was the first game of a seven game winning streak for the Tigers and Clemson went on to a Gator Bowl berth, its first bowl bid in 18 years.
Nine years later, Clemson was coming off a 6-6 season heading to Georgia after suffering a season opening loss at home to Virginia Tech. But, David Treadwell booted a career long 46-yard field goal as the final horn sounded, sending Clemson to a 31-28 victory. Clemson went on to post an 8-2-2 record and won the first of three straight ACC Championships. It was the first of six straight seasons with just two losses for the Clemson program.
Clemson vs. Georgia 1977-87
The Clemson vs. Georgia series reached its high point during the 11 games played between 1977-87. The two teams were 5-5-1 against each other during that period and nine of the 11 contests were decided by seven points or less. During that time, Georgia scored 171 points and Clemson scored 159 so there were just 12 total points difference between the two teams over an 11-game period.
The average margin of victory for the winner was just 4.7 points per game during those 11 years. The teams were fairly even in other categories also. Clemson averaged 311 yards per game during that period against Georgia and the Bulldogs averaged 286.3. Clemson had 11 more first downs in the 11 games combined. Here is a game-by-game short rundown of the games during that series. For a longer synopsis of the games turn to page 169 in the Clemson media guide.
Clemson has Eight Graduates on Roster
The 2002 Clemson team has already broken a school record and the kickoff of the season opener has not even taken place. This year's team has eight graduates on its roster, a record for a Clemson team. The list includes three players who will travel to roster with two full seasons yet to play.
Clemson starting quarterback Willie Simmons, starting defensive end Khaleed Vaughn and reserve tackle William Henry are listed as graduates on the roster, but still have this year and 2003 in terms of eligibility. Simmons received his degree last May, accomplishing his course requirements in just three years and three summer schools. That is the earliest a Clemson scholarship football player has ever graduated. Vaughn and Henry both graduated this past August 10th and still have two years to play.
The list of graduates on the 2002 Clemson team includes starting wide receiver Jackie Robinson, starting roverback Altroy Bodrick, starting defensive tackle Nick Eason and starting offensive tackle Gary Byrd. Nathan Gillespie is a reserve offensive lineman who also has his Clemson diploma. Eason graduated in August of 2001, so he also had his degree with two years to play.
The previous high for graduates on a Clemson football team was seven set just last year. By the end of the 2002 academic year 18 of the 22 seniors on the 2001 football team already had their degree. Two of those players are in school this year and plan to graduate by May of 2003.
Clemson Graduates on 2002 Team
Name Pos Graduation Jackie Robinson WR Dec. 2001 Khaleed Vaughn DE Aug. 2002 Willie Simmons QB May 2002 William Henry OT Aug. 2002 Altroy Bodrick ROV Aug. 2002 Gary Byrd OT Aug. 2002 Nick Eason DT Aug. 2001 Nathan Gillespie OG Dec. 2001Opening on the Road
The Clemson vs. Georgia game in Athens will mark just the fourth time Clemson has opened on the road since 1975. The last time Clemson opened on the road was in 1996 when the Tigers lost 45-0 to a North Carolina team that would end the season with a 10-2 record.
Clemson's last win in an opening game played on the road took place in 1985 when a David Treadwell field goal on the last play of the game gave the Tigers a 20-17 win at Virginia Tech. The only other time Clemson has opened a season on the road since 1975 was at Georgia in 1982. The Bulldogs won that meeting of the 1980 and 1981 National Champions, 13-7 in a Monday night game that was shown on ABC TV.
In its history, Clemson is 10-10-2 when it opens the season on the road. Clemson's first game in history was at Furman, a 14-6 win in 1896. Clemson opened its 1897, 1898, 1899 and 1903 seasons at Georgia and lost three of four. The 29-0 win at Georgia in 1903 was John Heisman's last season at Clemson.
Frank Howard opened his season on the road five straight years between 1959-63. His 1959 team defeated a 12th ranked North Carolina team 20-18 in Chapel Hill to open that season. He also opened on the road at Florida in 1961, at Georgia Tech in 1962 and at fourth ranked Oklahoma in 1963.
Clemson Opens vs. Ranked Opponent
Not only is Clemson opening the season on the road for just the fourth time since 1975, Clemson will face a ranked opponent, a top 10 opponent in its first game of the season. This will mark just the sixth time in history Clemson has opened a season against a ranked foe. The Tigers are 1-4 in the previous season openers against a ranked team.
This is the first time Clemson has faced a ranked team in a season opener since 1982 when the Tigers faced a seventh ranked Georgia in Athens. Georgia won that contest 13-7 thanks to a blocked punt return for a touchdown. Clemson's only season opening win in history over a ranked opponent took place at North Carolina in 1959, a 20-18 win over a 12th ranked North Carolina team for Frank Howard's Tigers. The highest ranked opponent Clemson has faced in a season opener took place in 1963 when Frank Howard's team lost at fourth ranked Oklahoma, 31-14.
Clemson's Road Ranked Wins
Clemson will have a chance to add to its list of road wins over ranked teams this weekend at Georgia . The Bulldogs are ranked 11th in the preseason USA Today poll and eighth in the preseason Associated Press Poll. Clemson has a graveyard at its entrance to the practice field and erects a tombstone to document each road win over a ranked team.
Clemson added to the site last year when it won at ninth ranked Georgia Tech, 47-44 in overtime in one of the most exciting games in school history. That was the highest ranked team Clemson had beaten on the road in 20 years. A win at Georgia would trump that triumph as the Bulldogs are ranked eighth in the nation, the same ranking North Carolina had in 1981 when Clemson won 10-8 on the way to its National Championship season. That win in Chapel Hill is still the highest ranked team Clemson has defeated on the road in history. Overall, Clemson has 17 wins over ranked teams on the road in its history.
Clemson Wins over Ranked Teams on the Road
Year Opponent Rk Score 1948 Wake Forest 19th 21-14 1950 Wake Forest 17th 13-12 Miami (FL) 15th 15-14 1954 Florida 14th 14-7 1959 North Carolina 12th 20-18 1977 Georgia 17th 7-6 1978 Maryland 11th 28-24 1981 North Carolina 8th 10-8 1982 Maryland 18th 24-22 1983 North Carolina 10th 16-3 1986 Georgia 14th 31-28 1989 Florida State 16th 34-23 1992 Virginia 10th 29-28 1994 North Carolina @12th 28-17 1996 Virginia 15th 24-16 1997 NC State @25th 19-17 2001 Georgia Tech 9th #47-44 @Coaches poll only #OvertimeClemson's Highest Ranked Wins
A win for Clemson over eighth ranked Georgia would be the highest ranked Clemson win since 1981 when Clemson defeated fourth-ranked Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, a 22-15 victory that gave Clemson the National Championship. Three of Clemson's top four wins in history took place during the 1981 National Championship season.
Regardless of site, Clemson has nine wins over top 10 teams in its history, three in Death Valley. Clemson has had 21 wins over top 25 teams since 1986 and has had at least one ranked win in 14 of the last 16 seasons. Tommy Bowden has defeated at least one ranked team each of his first three years at Clemson. The Tigers defeated Virginia, 33-14, in 1999 when the Cavs were ranked 19th (USA Today), then downed a 25th ranked South Carolina team in 2000. The Tigers then defeated 9th ranked Georgia Tech in Atlanta last year.
Clemson in Openers
Clemson has won 15 of its last 18 season openers. The only opening losses since 1983 took place in 1986 at Clemson when Virginia Tech and Coach Bill Dooley upset the Tigers, 20-14, at North Carolina in Chapel Hill in 1996 and in 1999 at home against Marshall, Tommy Bowden's first game as Clemson head coach.
That 1986 game with Virginia Tech was a battle of eventual bowl teams, as the Tigers ended the year 8-2-2 and ranked 17th in the nation, while Virginia Tech was 9-2-1 and ranked 20th in the final poll. The 1999 13-10 loss to Marshall was also a battle of bowl teams.
Clemson has won its last two openers and is 2-1 under Tommy Bowden in its first game of the season. Clemson defeated Central Florida last year 21-13 and stopped The Citadel 38-0 in the 2000 season. Marshall stopped Clemson 13-10 in the opening game of 1999, Bowden's first year at Clemson.
The Tigers are 79-19-8 (.783), regardless of site, in their first game of the season in its previous 106 seasons. Even though this is the 107th season of Clemson football, Clemson has had just 101 home openers in its history because five seasons Clemson did not play a game at home. In the 101 home openers Clemson has a 77-16-8 record against 28 different opponents. Clemson opens its home schedule September 7 vs. Louisiana Tech.