Feeding the need (part II)

CUTigers.com continues its series of looking at the top moments in Clemson football by taking a look at the 1981 National Championship season.

Simply put, it was the dream season Tiger fans still long for today: the 1981 National Championship season.

Clemson had five different players earn All-American honors that year, more than any other team in the program's history.

The Tigers also beat three teams that were ranked inside the Associated Press Top 10, including Georgia and Nebraska.

Clemson was the only team in the country that year to play and beat three top 10 teams.

The defense recorded a school-record 41 turnovers, a record that still stands today. During one stretch of that season, Clemson held opponents without a touchdown for 18 consecutive quarters and no opponent scored a rushing touchdown through the first seven games of the year.

In addition, no opponent had a play over 30 yards. In fact, the longest touchdown allowed was a 26-yard run by Nebraska's Roger Craig in the 1982 Orange Bowl.

Overall, the Tigers finished second nationally in scoring defense, seventh in rushing defense, seventh in turnover margin and eighth in total defense. Clemson's defense led the ACC in total defense, rushing defense, scoring defense and interceptions.

"We didn't want people to score on us and we wanted to physically dominate people," former linebacker and All-American Jeff Davis said. "In a sick way, that was our joy. Yeah, we may not have beaten everybody by 21 points, but your body and your mental state of mind said we beat you by 21 points.

"That's the kind of football we played. We had no reason for how great we were playing."

18 players from that team were drafted into the NFL and 22 overall played in the league, including 12 that played for five years or more.

The 1981 Clemson Tigers were truly the best team in the program's history.

"They were a terrific group and they set out to accomplish one goal — and that was to be perfect," Clemson coach Danny Ford said.

Here's a look back on some of the big games that season:

Sept. 19, 1981
Clemson, S.C.
Game 3: Clemson 13, No. 4 Georgia 3

Clemson forced a school record nine turnovers, including five interceptions on its way to a 13-3 victory over No. 4 and defending National Champion Georgia.

An interception by strong safety Tim Childress set up the game's only touchdown, an 8-yard pass from Homer Jordan to Perry Tuttle in the second quarter. Donald Igwebuike booted two field goals of 39 and 29 yards to counter Georgia kicker Kevin Butler's 40-yard kick in the third quarter to cap the win.

The win propelled the Tigers into the national rankings the next week at No. 19 in the Associated Press Poll and No. 18 in the Coaches' Poll.

Oct. 31, 1981
Clemson, S.C.
Game 8: No. 3 Clemson 82, Wake Forest 24

The Tigers set ACC records for total yards (756), rushing yards (536), margin of victory (58 points) and points scored (82) in the 82-24 victory in Death Valley.

Nine Tigers scored on the day, including three touchdowns by Chuck McSwain and two by Cliff Austin. Clemson was 12-for-12 on third down and scored 12 touchdowns.

It was a massacre from the opening kickoff.

Nov. 7, 1981
Chapel Hill, N.C.
Game 9: No. 2 Clemson 10, No. 8 North Carolina 8

This game marked the first time in the history of the ACC that two ACC teams entered a football game in the Top 10. After falling behind 3-0 in the second quarter, Clemson answered with a Jeff McCall touchdown to cap a 14-play, 81-yard drive.


"We didn't want people to score on us and we wanted to physically dominate people," former linebacker and All-American Jeff Davis said of the 19981 National Championship Tigers. (Clemson University)

North Carolina blocked a punt which sailed out of the end zone just before the first half came to a close and the Tigers took a 7-5 lead into the locker room. Donald Igwebuike kicked a 39-yard field goal in the third quarter for a 10-5 Clemson lead.

After the Tar Heels pulled within two, thanks to a field goal of their own, the Tiger defense made several big plays, including Jeff Bryant's recovery of an incomplete lateral to end a UNC threat with 57 seconds left to preserve the victory.

It was a win that would set the tone for the remainder of the season as the Tigers continued their march to an ACC and a National Championship.

Nov. 14, 1981
Clemson, S.C.
Game 10: No. 2 Clemson 21, Maryland 7

The Tigers wrapped up their second ACC title in 14 years and their eighth overall with a 21-7 victory on Senior Day in Death Valley. Jordan, himself, was responsible for 312 total yards – the third highest total in Clemson history at the time – including three touchdown passes, while completing 20 of 29 passes.

Two of those touchdown strikes went to Tuttle, who had 10 catches for 151 yards to become Clemson's all-time reception leader, while the other went to Jerry Gaillard, who ended his Clemson career with his first touchdown catch.

The Tiger defense held Maryland to 236 yards and only allowed a touchdown after the Terrapins recovered a fumble at the Clemson seven.

Nov. 21, 1981
Columbia, S.C.
Game 11: No. 2 Clemson 29, South Carolina 13

The Clemson Tigers capped their first undefeated regular season since 1948 with a 29-13 win over their archrival in Columbia. The day, however, didn't start off so good. The Gamecocks stuffed the Clemson offense early and took a 7-0 lead when Johnnie Wright scored from a yard out.

The Tigers still struggled until Rod McSwain came from the left side and blocked a Chris Norman punt. The ball rolled into the end zone where Johnny Rembert fell on the ball for a Clemson touchdown.

Though the Tigers missed the extra point, the momentum shifted over to the Clemson sideline where it was never relinquished. Bob Pauling added a 24-yard field goal and Jordan scrambled for an 11-yard touchdown, giving Clemson a 15-7 lead at halftime.

The Gamecocks pulled within two points, 15-13, when quarterback Gordan Beckham hit Horace Smith with a 10-yard pass. Clemson put the game away in the fourth quarter with two Chuck McSwain touchdowns, including a 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 on Jan.1.

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.

Jan. 1, 1982
Miami, Fla.
Game 12: No. 1 Clemson 22, No. 4 Nebraska 15

Clemson claimed its first national championship in any sport with a 22-15 victory over Big Eight Champion Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.

After Clemson kicked a field goal to open the game, Nebraska responded on its next drive with a 69-yard march, capped off by Mike Rozier's 25-yard pass to Anthony Steels for a 7-3 lead with 6:43 to go in the first quarter.

After an exchange of punts, Clemson's Igwebuike hit a second field goal this time from 37 yards away to make the score 7-6.

The Tigers took a 12-7 lead just before the half as Austin swept the right side from two yards out. The touchdown was setup by a recovered fumble from linebacker Jeff Davis at the Nebraska 27.

Clemson drove 75 yards in 12 plays on its second possession of the second half for its final touchdown of the night. Jordan capped the drive with a 13-yard pass to the left corner of the end zone to Tuttle, which gave the Tigers a 19-7 lead. It was Tuttle's eighth touchdown of the season – a school record for a receiver at the time.

Igwebuike kicked his third field goal of the night, this time from 36 yards, for a 22-7 lead with 2:36 to play in the third quarter. The field goal was setup by a 41-yard Billy Davis punt return to the Cornhuskers' 20.

Roger Craig kept Nebraska in the game when he darted 26 yards for a touchdown. After a successful two-point conversion by Craig, the Cornhuskers trailed by just seven points with nine minutes to play.

The Clemson defense stiffened and held the Nebraska offense on its next possession, while the Tigers' offense held on to the ball for nearly five and half minutes, running all but 12 seconds off the game clock. Mark Mauer's heave down field for one last chance was batted down by defensive end Andy Headen, giving Clemson the national championship.

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