Pieces in place for Clemson-Georgia to become rivalry again

Andy Harrison/Georgia athletics

It was defensive back Scott Woerner and the Bulldogs’ defense that starred in the dramatic 20-16 Georgia win. Woerner returned Clemson’s first punt for a 67-yard touchdown, and later intercepted a pass at the Georgia goal line and raced 98 yards to set up the other Georgia TD. Late in the game, Clemson threatened deep in Georgia territory before two South Carolina natives saved the game for Georgia. Team captain and linebacker Frank Ros, of Taylors, tipped a Homer Jordan pass that defensive back Jeff Hipp, of West Columbia, intercepted on the 1-yard line. Needing a first down to clinch the game, Walker sprinted to the sideline past blitzing Clemson defenders for a 20-yard gain and the Bulldogs ran out the clock. Georgia finished the 1980 season 12-0 and won the national championship.

Clemson turned the tables in 1981. Entering the game unbeaten but unranked, the Tigers handed No. 4 Georgia the first loss of the Herschel Walker era, snapping a 15-game winning streak. Clemson’s defense and turnovers unraveled the Georgia offense. Senior quarterback Buck Belue threw five interceptions, Walker fumbled twice and the Bulldogs committed nine turnovers in the Tigers’ 13-3 victory. In another reversal of 1980, a Georgian led the Clemson win, as Jordan, from Cedar Shoals High in Athens, passed for 131 yards and ran for 59 more. The Tigers used the game as a springboard to their own national championship, finishing a 12-0 campaign with an Orange Bowl triumph over Nebraska. Georgia didn’t lose again in the regular season, but fell 24-20 to Dan Marino and Pitt in the Sugar Bowl.

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Those two championship seasons set the stage for the rubber match on Labor Day night 1982.

The game in Athens was a quite a spectacle. It was a Monday night game and a holiday, so fans had ample time to, shall we say, hydrate in preparation for the festivities. ABC, with top duo Keith Jackson and Frank Broyles at the mic, was in town for the premier national matchup of opening weekend. For the first time since the early 1960s, when lights were removed from Sanford Stadium, Georgia was hosting a night game under a newly installed system. The past two defending national champions were meeting. Clemson was riding a 13-game winning streak, the nation’s longest. Finally, Walker was recovering from a broken thumb and not expected to play.

Georgia prevailed 13-7 in a tense and physical game.

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