This was the season opener for both squads and the last scheduled meeting between the two schools at the time. I was especially geeked up for this one because it was Georgia and because I knew it would be the last opportunity that Clemson would have to put it on the Dawgs for many years to come and because of Clemson's close call against a much better Georgia squad the previous year in Athens. I believe the whole Tiger nation had this attitude along with a fresh sense of hope for the new season.
Clemson started that season with tough loss against Georgia in Athens. This game was tough because Clemson had its fair share of chances to put this one away and lead heading into the 4th quarter. I was there and you could sense that if Willie Simmons could have gained a little more control of his cannon we could have pulled this one out. Clemson won three in a row before losing at Florida State then at Virginia (late turnovers doomed us in this one). The Tigers rebounded against Wake before getting the crap beaten out of us at home on a Thursday night against NC State. Clemson had a come from behind victory against Duke then took care of UNC. CU ended up losing to Maryland in another woodshed job, beat in-state rival USC, then got murdered in the Tangerine Bowl. Another mediocre 7-6 record for the Tigers.
Clemson did however break in a freshman quarterback. Midway through the season, the highly-thought-of Willie Simmons was benched for a young Charlie Whitehurst. Although I was against his benching at the time and saw Simmons as a sacrificial lamb taking most of the heat for Clemson's mediocre season, Whitehurst did show a lot of grit in his playing time, particularly nearly getting his dome knocked off all night in the Texas Tech bowl game.
Georgia's 2002 season was one of what might have been. After squeaking past Clemson and USC to start the year, UGa showed why most of the "experts" penciled them in as the nation's #1 squad. A very big personnel mistake by Mark Richt (removing David Greene early in the Florida game after UGa had all the momentum after an early score) was the lone blemish for the '02 Dawgs.
What we heard coming in: Tommy came out and proclaimed that it was time for Clemson to get tougher. We would now, somehow (allegedly), transform ourselves into a smash-mouth rushing football team over the offseason. Georgia entered the game ranked 11th in the land, looking to prove to the critics that they could overcome offseason losses and have another successful season.
Before getting into the actual gameplay, I would first like to set up the pregame and gametime atmosphere. Obviously, anytime Georgia rolls into the Valley, it is a big deal for Tiger fans. Some of Clemson's greatest wins have come against Georgia. Two of these include what I consider the biggest win in Clemson history, 1981 vs UGa, and my personal favorite, 1987 vs UGa. To say that I was a little excited for this one would be an understatement. Hell, Hank Williams was in town the previous night to get things started (me and the Stunner--and crew--had a great time at that one).
This was an early September game in the Valley, meaning it was 10 degrees hotter than Hell. Usually these early season home games are not as big of a deal, as we typically open in this hot weather against a much lesser opponent. The fact that it was a noon game and one of the hottest I can ever remember going to (and yes, I have been to my fair share of Clemson September games when we kicked off at the traditional 1:00 spot) made it very tough to lose this way. Nobody likes being hot, sweaty, and ready to kill. Maybe it was a bit of fortune that it was that hot AND early, as Dawgfan didn't have enough time or hydration to get through the typical handle of bourbon for the pregame meal.
This one was completely dominated by Georgia from the start. Clemson opened the game receiving the kickoff and utilized several short/medium passes to move the ball to the UGA 41 where the Tigers were forced to punt. Georgia wasted little time getting on the board after receiving the Clemson punt, capitalizing on a big run then a long pass reception by Fred Gibson to put the Dawgs on the board with just over nine (9) minutes late in the 1st. This 3rd and 2 play was set up by play action. Gibson used a double move, faking a corner route then getting inside to run his post pattern, completely turning around Clemson's best defender--Justin Miller. UGA 7--CU 0.
Clemson opened the following drive with a couple of first downs before a costly Charlie Whitehurst fumble gave Georgia the football inside Clemson territory. Georgia moved the ball inside the Clemson 20 with a few pass completions by David Greene and a costly Clemson penalty. The UGa drive was halted at the Clemson 15 and the Dawgs settled for a 34 yard Billy Bennett field goal putting the Dawgs up 10-0.
Clemson went three and out and punted on its next drive. Georgia inserted sophmore QB D. J. Shockley after the punt, and Georgia quickly drove to the Clemson 16. The Tigers were able to stop UGa's fourth down trickery and Georgia emerged from this drive empty-handed. Three offensive plays later, Derrick Hamilton fumbled the ball giving Georgia another crack at it from the Clemson 15. The Tigers' defense stepped up and forced another UGa field goal. UGa 13--Clemson 0.
Clemson was able to move the ball deep into UGa territory on its next drive. The Tigers, aided by a nice Miller kick return and a Georgia 15 yard penalty, moved the ball through the air down to the UGa 4 yard line. The Tigers were unsuccessful in their attempt to punch it in from short range on 4th and goal, coming away empty handed on a nice mid-quarter drive. Georgia then held the ball for six minutes before we forced another UGa punt. The Tigers again moved the ball well through the air and were aided by a Georgia penalty. We moved the ball to the UGa 35 before three consecutive Whitehurst incompletions set up a 52 yard Aaron Hunt field goal that was no good. Once again, the Dawgs hold and effectively end the half up 13-0.
Georgia took the second half kickoff and methodically moved down the field. One long pass play combined with numerous grinding runs took the Dawgs inside the Clemson 5 yard line. Once again, the Tigers held as Georgia was not able to successfully convert a fourth down attempt from the Clemson 3 yard line. Clemson's offense went three and out, and the UGa offense was back on the field AGAIN and deep in Clemson territory (UGa took over at the CU 31). The Clemson defense again stood up, holding Georgia to 7 yards on three plays as the Dawgs had to settle for another Bennett FG, this time from 42 yards out. UGa 16--Clemson 0.
Clemson and Georgia then traded three and out series, Georgia again substituting Shockley for Greene on its unsuccessful drive. Clemson proceded to maneuver deep into Georgia territory and had a first and goal at the 4 yard line. A costly penalty coupled with a critical sack set the offense back. Georgia standout David Pollack essentially ended this one by recording an interception on a poorly executed screen pass on third down. The tired Clemson defense then gave up two late touchdowns to end the scoring. Final Score: Georgia 30--Clemson 0.
What really happened? For Clemson, this was another case of missed opportunities. Clemson had the ball inside the UGa 5 yard line twice and could not produce any points. Georgia kept trying to keep Clemson in this one by forgoing sure scoring opportunities on fourth down tries. In the end, Clemson's offense's inability to put points on the board along with some long Georgia drives wore out the Tiger defense. At the end of the game, our defense was exhausted and all but laid down in the fourth, especially after the botched screen pass deep in UGa territory.
Clemson and Sophmore QB Charlie Whitehurst did not take care of the football. If memory serves me correctly, Whitehurst could not handle the first snap and we gave Georgia the ball quite a few times on fumbles and interceptions. You cannot win football games when you don't capitalize on your opponent's mistakes and turn the ball over, period.
Why is this the worst? First, we absolutely hate Georgia. Second, you have a full off season to prepare and get beat 30-0? To your biggest damn rival?!? I will go to the point of saying that beating Georgia is the best thing in life. We beat South Carolina's ass all the time, and their fans are obnoxious but non-violent about their team. Georgia fan is, no pun intended, a real peach.
**Let me go ahead and give the obligatory disclaimer...the majority of actual Georgia graduates don't fit into this category. Please also refrain from lumping in the guys at dawgsports.com or members of the Bernard Ramsey family into this group. There are a few others out there who I have omitted who refrain from barking, spitting and pissing, so I will appologize in advance for lumping you in with this group.**
Anyone who actually went to the university does not apply here simply because I have met too many alumni who agree with me that Georgia fan--excuse me, non-student Georgia fan--is obnoxious and out of control. These are the assholes who bark in your face and spit at you while cruising through Athens. These are the jewels that piss off the side of the stadium onto the opposition's fans after the games. Athens is a fun place and the people who actually have been educated who are there on a Saturday are generally nice folks. However, they are in the minority and the rest of the riff-raff overwhelm the decent ones and cause numerous people to swear that they will NEVER visit Sanford Stadium again. WE HATE GEORGIA, period.
That is only a small part of why this game royally sucked. Clemson got their asses handed to them. Tom committed to being a tough team and just could not cut the mustard on game day. If we are so damn tough, why are we throwing the ball so many times on 3rd and 4th and 1-2 yards? Hell, Richt probably kept this thing in check by botching 2-3 sure scoring opportunities himself. Did we take advantage, NO. Was this a coaching staff that was completely unprepared? YES. Being this unpreparred for a game that is this important is unacceptable. Losing to Georgia in such a fashion in the hottest weather I can ever remember in the Valley is unacceptable. Go to the ESSO Club and look on the walls...you don't see life-sized murals of many wins, so the two Treadwell pics should tell you that the Georgia game is a big one and losing it sucks...getting killed by 30 really sucks.