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Historical Eye of the Tiger: Clemson-NC State

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The annual Textile Bowl between the Tigers and Wolfpack always seems to provide its share of thrills, and if history is any indication, the 2014 edition should be no different.

As the calendar turns to October and we enter the second quarter of the college football regular season, those mangy rednecks-clad wolves from North Carolina State descend on Tigertown for the 2014 Textile Bowl. The histories of both Clemson and NC State are significantly intertwined, both as academic institutions and athletic programs. Both are land-grant universities founded in the late 1880s (NC State-1887; Clemson-1889) with historic strengths in engineering, agricultural, and industrial education (especially in textile manufacturing). This last accounts for the rivalry's name, a reference to the pivotal role played by both NC State and Clemson in weaving the textile industry into the economic and social fabric of both states.

On the field, both schools lay claim to being the football programs in their respective states. But it's there that the similarities end. Though State claims to be the Old North State's premier football program, the Wolfpack has losing records all-time against their most bitter rival, UNC (32-65-6), and renowned football powerhouse, Duke (36-41-5).* So apparently their claims to football supremacy in North Carolina rest on their "domination" of such football dynasties as Wake Forest (63-38-6) and East Carolina (16-12-0). That's a paltry record against mediocre competition for a self-proclaimed "football school." Those records of futility are reminiscent of some other school that's now crowing in a similar vein about its football "legacy," a school our Tigers have owned historically to the tune of 65-42-4; I think we all know to whom I'm referring, and I think that comparison alone refutes any attempt to equate the football heritage of the Tigers and ‘Pack. Clemson owns a commanding 53-28-1 all-time record over NC State, with an equally impressive 23-11-0 record at home. Since 1981, when the "rivalry" first garnered the "Textile Bowl" moniker, the Tigers hold a 23-10-0 record against NC State, losing just four at home to the ‘Pack during that span.

Though Clemson has dominated the series historically, there has been no shortage of excitement and intrigue over the years when the Tigers and Wolfpack tangle. State has more than once proved a thorn in Clemson's side, especially during the Ford years when three consecutive nationally ranked, ACC Champion Tiger teams scuffled against Dick Sheridan's Wolfpack (1986: 27-3; 1987: 30-28; 1988: 10-3), with the loss in 1987 ruining a perfect 6-0 record. And many a Tiger fan still grimaces when the names of 1990s Wolfpack stalwarts like WRs Torry Holt and Koren Robinson, RB Ray Robinson, and QB Jamie Barnette are mentioned. Then there's Phillip Rivers, who single-handedly ruined Clemson's first home Thursday night game in years in 2002 (38-6), and seemingly convinced the Athletic Department to avoid Thursday night home bouts forevermore. Rivers, WR Jerricho Cotchery, and RB T.A. McClendon furthered the misery the following year in one of the ugliest games in the history of football, beating the Tigers 17-15 in Raleigh.

Since that debacle in 2003, however, Clemson has put together a 9-1 record against the ‘Pack, with the lone loss coming in 2011, when the Tigers turned the ball over four times en route to a 37-13 State blowout. With the Wolfpack running into town at 4-1, fresh off a near-epic upset of #1 FSU in Raleigh, and with memories of a near-upset of Clemson in a Thursday night primetime special a year ago, this one has all the makings of another thriller. In preparation, we'll take a look back at some pivotal wins by our Tigers over the Wolfpack in Death Valley: one from the 1981 national title campaign, when the Tigers summarily dispatched the Wolfpack to maintain perfection in the first "Textile Bowl;" one from Danny's final year in 1989, when the Tigers routed the Wolfpack to begin a dominant 5-0 finish to the season; one from 1991 when Kenny Hatfield broke out the purple jerseys to win and keep the Tigers ACC title hopes alive; and one from 2012, the most stressful 62-points-scored, double-digit victory in recorded history.

In 1981, Clemson entered its annual matchup with NC State sporting a perfect 6-0 record and #4 national ranking, having already knocked off in-state warm-up Wofford, defending national champion Georgia, and conference "rival" Virginia to sweep the early home slate. The Wolfpack came into the game at 4-2 and unranked, having just lost to the rival UNC Tarheels the previous week. Danny Ford brought a personal 0-2 record against the ‘Pack as Clemson's head man into the contest, and his Tigers looked as though they would stretch the winless streak to three early on as they came out flat and turned it over three times (a fumble by RB Cliff Austin and two second-quarter interceptions by QB Homer Jordan).

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Homer Jordan

But despite the early lethargy, the Tigers put together a pivotal touchdown drive just before the half, highlighted by two of Jordan's three completions in the game, both to WR Perry Tuttle, to take a 10-7 lead into the break.

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Perry Tuttle

The Tiger defense, led by All-Americans Jeff Davis (LB), Terry Kinard (FS), and freshman phenom William Perry (DT), clamped down from there, allowing just 76 total yards, three first downs, and 21yds rushing to the Wolfpack in the second half.

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Jeff "The Judge" Davis

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"Everybody's All American" Terry Kinard

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William "The Refrigerator" Perry

The Tiger offense continued to sputter, but managed a game-clinching 52yd touchdown drive with just 8:30 left to seal the victory. This would be the first game in the series to be dubbed the "Textile Bowl," establishing a precedent that has not been deviated from since. NC State would lose out the rest of the year, finishing at 4-7 and unranked. Clemson went on to complete a magical season, finishing a perfect 12-0 (6-0 ACC Champions), beating #4 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl to win the 1981 National Championship.

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In 1989, Coach Danny Ford's Tigers entered the annual Textile Bowl vs. NC State with a 5-2 record and #22 national ranking, but had lost two of their last three, to Steve Spurrier's Duke Blue Devils and Bobby Ross's Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Dick Sheridan's NC State Wolfpack came in at 6-0 and #12 in the country, setting up an epic ACC showdown. Sheridan and the 'Pack had had Ford and the Tigers' number the previous three seasons, but despite these struggles, the '89 Tigers were not to be denied. Paced by RBs Joe Henderson and Wesley McFadden (star tailback Terry Allen had injured his knee against Virginia two weeks prior) and directed by graduate QB Chris Morroco, the Tiger offense racked up thirty points, while the defense, led by a stable of linebackers that included John Johnson, Doug Brewster, Ed McDaniel, Levon Kirkland, Wayne Simmons, and Ashley Sheppard, stifled the ‘Pack offense. The result was a 30-10 rout of the Wolfpack. NC State would finish the year at 7-5 and unranked, losing five of their last six, capped off with a Copper Bowl loss to Arizona. Clemson won five straight to finish the season at 10-2 and ranked #11 in the polls after dismantling Major Harris and the West Virginia Mountaineers 27-7 in the Gator Bowl to close out the campaign.

1989 Clemson vs NC State Football Game (via tigerray)

In 1991, Coach Ken Hatfield's second Tiger squad entered the annual tussle with the Wolfpack at 3-1-1 and #19 in the country, having beaten Appalachian State, Temple, and #19 Georgia Tech to open the year before losing at Georgia and tying Virginia in the Valley. NC State yet again came in 6-0 and ranked #12 under the direction of head coach Dick Sheridan. Hatfield sprung a last-minute surprise on the Tiger team and the Death Valley crowd by breaking out the purples jerseys for the first time since the 1940s, and the Tigers played inspired football throughout the day. Led by QB Dechane Cameron, RB Rodney Blunt (star tailback Ronald Williams had sprained a knee in pre-game warm-ups), and WR Terry Smith, the Tiger offense directed seven scoring drives, including a then-record five field goals by PK Nelson Welch. That would be more than enough, as a loaded Tiger defense, led up front by DTs Chester McGlockton and Brentson Buckner, MG Rob Bodine, LBs Levon Kirkland, Ed McDaniel, Wayne Simmons, and Kenzil Jackson, and in the backend by FS Robert O'Neal, made it hold up en route to a 29-19 Tiger victory. NC State would finish the year at 9-3 and #24 in the nation, losing to East Carolina in the Peach Bowl to close out the year. Clemson would reel off six straight wins before losing 37-13 to the Cal Bears in a soggy Florida Citrus Bowl to end the campaign at 9-2-1 and #18 in the polls.

1991 Clemson vs NC State Football Game (via tigerray)

In 2012, Clemson rode into its bout with ACC Atlantic Division rival NC State with a 9-1 mark, good enough for #11 standing in the national polls, their only loss coming on the road in a 49-37 shootout with FSU. The Wolfpack carried a 6-4 record into the contest and were unranked. This was one of the strangest games in recent memory, as the Tigers jumped out to a 13-0 lead and looked poised to run away with it, moving the ball with ease and completely confounding Mike Glennon and the NC State offense. Then Glennon hooked up with electric wideout Tobias Palmer for a 77yd touchdown, followed quickly by a 49yd touchdown on their next possession, and State took a 14-13 lead, which they increased to 21-13 after Glennon found WR Rashard Smith for an 18yd score to end the first quarter! In the second frame, Clemson seemingly put the game away with 28 points, all touchdowns by QB Tajh Boyd (7yd td pass to TE Brandon Ford; 27yd td pass to WR Sammy Watkins; 62yd td pass to WR Deandred "Nuk" Hopkins; and 9yd td run by Boyd), while the Tiger defense limited State to just three points, taking a 41-24 lead into the half. The third quarter proved a somewhat back-and-forth affair, with Boyd connecting on a long scoring strike to WR Martavis Bryant (40yds) and running for another 9yd td, but Glennon and company answering with two touchdowns of their own, only to be one-upped when Boyd hit Brandon Ford on a slant route that turned into a 69yd td rumble to put the Tigers up 62-38 after three. But NC State wouldn't go away quietly despite the deficit, as they put up ten fourth-quarter points that kept Tiger fans on the edge of their seats until the final whistle sounded.

When the dust settled, the final scoreboard showed a 62-48 Clemson win, and the final stat sheet revealed a combined 1,351 total yards of offense (754 for the Tigers, 597 for the ‘Pack). The Tigers set school records for offensive plays in a game (102) and were just two off of the total yards mark (756 set in the 82-24 win over Wake Forest in 1981). Tajh Boyd set a school record by accounting for 8 touchdowns (5 passing, 3 rushing) in the game, and Clemson won 10 regular season games for the first time since 1990. The Wolfpack would finish the year at 7-6 and unranked, firing head coach Tom O'Brien and hiring current head coach Dave Doeren. The Tigers would go on to finish 11-2, beating LSU 25-24 in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl on a last-second field goal by K Chandler Catanzaro to ring in the 2013 New Year.

Clemson vs. North Carolina State Football Highlights - 2012 (via ACC Digital Network)

To watch the full game, click here.

The 2014 Textile Bowl with NC State figures to be just as difficult to...well...figure, as any of the epic thrillers of the past. The ‘Pack come in at 4-1, but largely untested beyond the near-upset of FSU last week. And Clemson has to be one of the most battle-tested teams in the country after road losses to nationally ranked UGA and FSU to go along with home wins over SC State and UNC. New starting Tiger QB Deshaun Watson certainly made a flashy debut last week, establishing a school record with 6 touchdown passes and finishing just 20yds shy of the single-game passing yardage mark set last year by Tajh Boyd (455). But it'll take more than Watson's personal heroics to beat a Wolfpack team with more talent and depth on both sides of the ball than the ‘Heels brought into the Valley. Can Clemson find a consistent running game to complement Watson's passing proficiency? Will the defense keep its focus and intensity a la the game in Tallahassee, or will they wilt in the second half like they did in Athens and again last week? With so many questions on the table, and the Wolfpack coming to town, the outcome of this one is anybody's  guess, but if history tells us anything, it's that it probably won't be easy for the Tigers. But ultimately the all-time track record points to a Tiger "W." So here's hoping that when it comes to wins and losses, history repeats itself yet again Saturday afternoon.

GO TIGERS!

* The author is well aware that the Dookies, back when FDR, Harry Truman, Ike, and JFK occupied the oval office, could make legitimate claims to being a fairly consistent winner in football. But all of those American icons have long since passed on, and despite momentary resurrections by Steve Spurrier in the late 80's and David Cutcliffe very recently, Duke football was also laid to rest sometime in the mid-to-late sixties.