Georgia-Clemson rivalry well worth the wait

sports@macon.comAugust 26, 2013 

When ESPN’s “College GameDay” shows up, you know it’s a big game, and that will be the case Saturday in Clemson, S.C., when Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and David Pollack will be on hand for the SEC-ACC matchup between the Georgia Bulldogs and Clemson Tigers.

Both teams are loaded, especially offensively, and this could be a shootout. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a 45-42 final, with either team winning. Clemson ranked sixth in total offense in the country last season, and Georgia is led by record-breaking quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Aaron Murray.

Even though the two schools are located less than 80 miles apart, this will be their first meeting since the 2003 season when Georgia blanked the Tigers 30-0. The teams have played 62 times through the years, with Georgia holding a commanding 41-17-4 record in the series, which dates back to the 1897 season when the Bulldogs won 24-0.

Between 1973 and 1987, Georgia and Clemson played annually, with the games in the early 1980s among the best all-time in the series. The 10-year gap between the 2003 game and this year’s contest is the longest ever between the two schools in football.

The Bulldogs and Tigers were back-to-back national champions more than 30 years ago, with Georgia taking the title in 1980 and Clemson in 1981, and the games between the schools in those two seasons were classics.

Clemson finished the 1980 season with just a 6-5 record, but the Tigers gave the Bulldogs all they wanted in Athens before losing 20-16.

Bulldogs fans will be forever grateful to defensive back Scott Woerner for that win. Without his performance, there would be no championship banner from that season flying in Athens today. The Jonesboro native, who did not start the game due to a poor performance the week before against Texas A&M, scored Georgia’s first touchdown on a 67-yard punt return and then had a 98-yard interception return to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Buck Belue. The interception return was a 14-point turnaround for Georgia, as the Tigers were on a march to tie the game at 7 but the interception led to a 14-0 Bulldogs lead. Rex Robinson then kicked two second-half field goals that proved to be the difference in the win.

Georgia had three other close calls during that 1980 unbeaten season. The Bulldogs came from behind to beat Tennessee 16-15, edged South Carolina 13-10 and beat Florida 26-21 on the Belue-to-Lindsay Scott touchdown pass.

The following year, the Bulldogs rolled into “Death Valley” unbeaten and ranked fourth in the country and riding a 15-game winning streak, only to be derailed by the Tigers 13-3. It was the only regular-season loss suffered by the Bulldogs during Herschel Walker’s three-year college career. Turnovers proved to be the difference, as Georgia had nine that afternoon, including three lost fumbles by Walker and five interceptions by Belue. Walker had lost just one fumble in his first 14 games as a collegian, and Belue was intercepted just four times total in the other 10 games that season.

Clemson went on to win the national championship, beating Nebraska 22-15 in the Orange Bowl.

The Dogs and Tigers had some other great games in the 1980s including a tie at 16 in 1983, a 26-23 Georgia win on Kevin Butler’s 60-yard field goal as time expired in 1984, and a 21-20 win by Clemson in 1987.

It’s great to see the schools bring back this great Southern rivalry, and hopefully next year’s game in Athens won’t be the final time they play. But there are currently no games scheduled in the future between these teams.

Bobby Pope hosts the Saturday Scoreboard at 5 p.m. on Saturday on Fox Sports 1670.

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