Clemson is a lot like a speeding Mack truck that flattens anything in its path as it tears on down the road. Eyewitnesses are left to wonder: Where did that come from? And where's it going? If you are Vince Dooley, coach at Georgia, and your Dawgs have just been run over, 21-20, by the Tigers, the answers to those questions would be something like "way over yonder" and "off our future schedule, if we're lucky." For the second year in a row, Georgia lost to Clemson in the final seconds, and this one, in the Tigers' Death Valley, ended with a mighty display of knock 'em down defensive ferocity by Clemson.
Two other pretty fair answers to those same interrogatories would be "every which way" and "to the Orange Bowl." While it may be too early for Tiger fans to begin making New Year's reservations for Miami, their prospects for such a trip are enhanced by the fact that Georgia was the closest that Clemson will come to serious competition until the Tigers meet South Carolina the last Saturday of the regular season. The Clemson schedule also consists of no fewer than eight games at home. And it surely doesn't hurt that when the Tigers are home, every game, with its hordes of orange-clad spectators and omnipresent orange paw prints, looks even oranger than the Orange Bowl.
Until the crushing finish, the Dawgs put up quite a fight. They came into the game featuring Lars Tate, the nation's leading rusher, who had averaged seven yards a carry in Georgia's wins over Virginia and Oregon State, and a freshman phenom named Rodney Hampton, who, in touching the ball 18 times, had gained 23.5 yards per reception, 10.1 per carry and 33 per kickoff return. Tate punched Clemson for 84 tough yards on 19 carries, and Hampton did a mean hesitation step during an eight-yard touchdown run that put Georgia ahead 20-16, with 8:59 to play. But, when you get down to it, all they really did was provide the buildup to a dramatic ending.
When, after Hampton's TD, Clemson sputtered on offense and punter Rusty Seyle nailed one on the one-yard line with 6:23 left, the big, fast, ill-natured Tiger defense took the field with a mission on its mind. Georgia's go-ahead touchdown was the first TD the Clemson defense had allowed in three games this season (the other Georgia six-pointer had come on Nathaniel Lewis's 76-yard punt return in the first half), and the Tiger line in particular was determined not to let it happen again.
The first play after the downed punt almost produced a safety when 300-pound noseguard Tony Stephens came close to taking the snap right out of Bulldog quarterback James Jackson's hands. On the next play Dooley ordered Jackson to try to turn the left corner on a keeper. Cornerback James Lott shucked Tate's block and stood Jackson up a yard deep in the end zone. Then safety Gene Beasley arrived in a very nasty mood, followed by linebacker Vince Taylor and some other guys in orange pants. In short, Jackson had no chance. Georgia's lead was cut to two points.
"It was obvious we couldn't get it out of there against them," said Dooley afterward. "It was my fault for making that call. They're great at the line of scrimmage. There's no question: We should've punted."
The rest seemed almost anticlimactic. Eschewing the pass, which they seem to do even when they run pass plays, Clemson took the ensuing free kick, knocked the tiring Bulldogs back off the ball and in nine bruising running plays—including a 16-yard third-and-seven cutback by tailback Terry Allen—swept to the Georgia five-yard line, where David Treadwell kicked a delirium-inducing field goal with two seconds left. This was old hat for Treadwell, who had kicked the winning field goal in the final seconds last year at Athens. But to most of the 82,500 assembled at Memorial Stadium, this was a new thing. They cheered as if Clemson had just won another national championship, which, in effect, it might have.
Clemson's Danny Ford is still the youngest coach to win the national title, an accomplishment he pulled off six years ago, at the age of 33. Ford has gone a little gray since those halcyon days of '81 and gotten a little testy and wary besides. The tough part, he has learned, ain't the gettin' there. It's the stayin' there.
Against Georgia, Ford used all three of his timeouts long before the game-winning drive. After one sideline session, junior quarterback Rodney Williams was starting out toward the huddle when Ford snatched him back by his collar and gave him a heart-to-heart while they stood nose-to-nose. "He told me to get 'em fired up, get 'em moving," said Williams.
But even now that his Tigers are off to a 3-0 start, with all but one of their remaining games against their brethren in the lightly regarded Atlantic Coast Conference, Ford just won't relax. "You can write about the schedule all you want, but you're wrong about that," Ford said after the game. Well, maybe so. But any Big Eight or Pac-10 coach would trade schedules with Ford quicker than you can say Michael Dean Perry.