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Historical Eye of the Tiger: Clemson-UNC

There's no love lost between Clemson and North Carolina, two programs and fan bases that have traditionally seen themselves as polar opposites: a football powerhouse vs. a basketball dynasty; blue collar fans vs. blue-blooded fans. On the field the Tigers have historically dominated the Tar Heels, so here's look at some of the most memorable Clemson wins over UNC in Death Valley.

Clemson vs. North Carolina
Clemson vs. North Carolina

Break out the wine and cheese folks, our fearless ACC commish, John "Swoffy" Swofford, sends his University of North Carolina Tar Heels down from Chapel Hill to grace us with their presence this weekend in Tigertown. And rumor has it that they even brought a football team with them, and there may even be something that resembles a football contest between our Tigers and the Carolina-blue-bloods come Saturday evening around seven o'clock.

The folks over in the John W. Pope Student-Athlete Academic Support Center at UNCheat have really done their homework in preparation for this week's game (and other people's homework too) (wink)

A thorough investigation (wink, wink) has revealed stellar classroom performance by the team, particularly in the rigorous African and Afro-American Studies program (wink, wink, wink)

All signs point to the Clemson Tigers having the complete focus of the Tar Heels as they step foot onto Frank Howard Field at Memorial Stadium. Anything short of a victory for the fabled North Carolina basketball football program will elicit a stern slap on the wrist by Commissioner Swoffy and his fellow alums ACC cronies administration (quadruple wink)

The Tigers hold a commanding 35-19-1 advantage over the Tar Heels in the all-time series that dates all the way back to 1897, and an even more impressive 18-7 record in The Valley. Over the course of those fifty-five all-time games, Clemson has outscored UNC 1,149 to 942, which equates to an average score of 21-17 in the Tigers' favor. So historically, the Tigers and ‘Heels have tangled toe-to-toe.

Since 1977, the Tigers have compiled a stellar 21-9 record against the Tar Heels, 12-3 at home, outscoring them 411-250, an average Tiger victory of 27-17 in Death Valley. In recent years, the rivalry has seen both sides land some hay-makers: 45-0 Tar Heels in Chapel Hill to kick of the '96 season; 31-20 Tigers at home in 1999; 38-24 Tigers in Chapel Hill in 2000; 38-3 ‘Heels on Clemson's homecoming weekend in 2001; 42-12 Tigers at Kenan Memorial Stadium in 2002; 52-7 Tigers at home in 2006; and most recently, 59-38 Tigers in the Valley in 2011.

With so many victories to choose from this week, we'll restrict our historical gaze to Tiger triumphs in Death Valley, in the hope of continuing the home field dominance of yore. A couple of wins from the golden age of Clemson football when Danny Ford presided, three wins that encapsulate the abundant-yet-unfulfilled potential of the Bowden era, and the latest victory by Dabo & Co. during their 2011 ACC title campaign, should perfectly accentuate the soft tannins and flamboyant flavor of yet another vintage victory over our elitist conference brethren from the Old North State.

In 1986 Clemson sported a 6-2 record heading into their annual conference tussle with North Carolina, who came into Death Valley at 5-2-1. The anticipation for the matchup was augmented by potential ACC title implications. North Carolina State, who had handed Clemson its only conference loss two weeks earlier in Raleigh, was losing to Maryland when the Tigers and ‘Heels kicked off, and the Wolfpack would go on to lose and thus opened the door for the Tigers to win out and claim the ACC crown. Armed with this added incentive, the Tigers dominated from the opening snap. Captained by senior tailback Terrence Flagler (fellow alumnus of your humble author's high school alma mater, Fernandina Beach High School, Home of the Fighting Pirates), who tallied well over 100 yards on the ground, and quarterbacked by sophomore Rodney Williams, who directed an efficient and, at times, explosive option attack, the Tigers jumped all over the Tar Heels.

The defense, led by star DT Michael Dean Perry, continually harassed UNC QB Mark Maye (not the annoying ESPN announcer and former Pitt offensive lineman) and bottled up running back Derrick Fenner en route to a 38-10 rout. The win was the first of seven straight in the series for the Tigers (1986-1992), still the longest winning streak for either school. Coach Dick Crum's Tar Heels went on to finish 7-4-1 and unranked after capping the season in Hawaii with a 30-21 Aloha Bowl loss to Arizona. Clemson would finish the year as ACC Champions at 8-2-2 (5-1-1 ACC), beating Stanford 27-21 in a thrilling Gator Bowl to close out the year at #17 in the final polls.

1986 Clemson vs North Carolina Football Game (via tigerray)

In 1988 Clemson again carried a 6-2 record into its conference showdown with North Carolina, placing the Tigers at #17 in the country, while the Tar Heels, under first-year head coach Mack Brown, limped into Death Valley at 1-7 and unranked nationally.


Senior signal-caller Rodney Williams directed a strong ground attack paced by the sensational sophomore tailback Terry Allen and powered by fullbacks Chris Lancaster and Tracy Johnson.


A punishing Tiger defense, led up front by DT Raymond Chavous, LBs Doug Brewster and Vince Taylor, and in the backend by CB Donnell Woolford and S James Lott, stifled the hapless ‘Heels to come away with a 37-14 win.


UNC continued their futility to finish unranked at 1-10. Clemson finished the year with a third straight ACC title at 10-2 (6-1 ACC), polishing it all off with a gripping 13-6 victory over Barry Switzer's 10th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners in the Florida Citrus Bowl to garner a #9 final ranking.

In 1999 Tommy Bowden's first Clemson team came into just its second conference tilt, against UNC, with a 1-2 record, having lost to Marshall in the home and season opener before rallying to beat the Virginia Cavaliers 33-14 in the Valley, then dropping a closer-than-the-final-score of 31-11 game at eventual national runner-up Virginia Tech. Carl Torbush's Tar Heels had also gotten off to a 1-2 start, sandwiching a win over Indiana (UNC fans: "If only this had been on the hardwood!") with conference losses at home to UVA and to eventual national champion FSU. The two teams with identical records largely mirrored each other on the field through the first half, battling to a 10-10 stalemate at the break. Senior QB Brandon Streeter led the Tiger offense on an early touchdown drive but went down with a broken collarbone with little over four minutes remaining in the opening quarter.


In stepped sophomore phenom Woodrow Dantzler, who sparked the Tigers to twenty-four points, including three second-half touchdowns in which he showcased both the passing prowess (a 49 yard bomb for a TD to WR Rod Gardner) and electric running ability (56 yard touchdown scamper) that would later enable him to become the first single-season 2000yd passer/1000yd rusher, cementing his legacy as one of the greatest to every don the paw.


Dantzler finished the game with 131 yards and a touchdown through the air and another 82 yards and a touchdown on the ground. RB Travis Zachary compiled 129 yards on 28 carries to pace a Tiger ground attack that accounted for 236 total rushing yards.


All-Conference wideout Rod Gardner added 7 catches for 127 yards and the long touchdown from Dantzler to lead the Tigers' aerial assault that accumulated 208 yards through the air.


Not to be outdone, a tenacious Tiger defense, led by LB Keith Adams and FS Robert Carswell, held Tar Heel QB Ronald Curry and the North Carolina offense to just 275 total yards while forcing two turnovers.


Torbush and the ‘Heels finished the year a dismal 3-8 and unranked. Tommy Bowden guided his inaugural Tiger team to a 6-6 (5-3 ACC) record-a three-win improvement over the 1998 squad's 3-8 mark-and a Peach Bowl berth against Mississippi State.

In 2006 Tommy Bowden's Tigers were coming off a rare win over the FSU Seminoles in Tallahassee and sported a solid 2-1 record and #23 national ranking when they tangled with the North Carolina Tar Heels in The Valley. John Bunting's Tar Heels came into Death Valley at 1-2 and unranked, having beaten Furman in a 45-42 thriller in Chapel Hill the week before. This one got out of hand early as the Tigers, led by RBs James Davis, Reggie Merriwether, and CJ Spiller, pounded the ‘Heels into submission on the ground to grab a 21-0 lead after one quarter, and they continued the onslaught with two more touchdowns in the second, and seventeen points in the third to put the game well out of reach for the hapless 'Heels, who had managed just three first downs in the first half, and scored just the one touchdown with about 10:30 to go in the game. Clemson tallied over 300 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground in the contest, led by Davis's four scores and 95yds.

The 52-7 Tiger victory remains the largest margin of victory for either school in the series. North Carolina would end the year unranked at 3-9, and would replace John Bunting with Butch Davis as head coach. Clemson continued to roll, peaking at 7-1 and #11 in the country after beating the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in front of a raucous Death Valley crowd and enraptured ESPN Gameday audience. But the Tigers stumbled to a 1-4 finish, beginning with a road loss to Virginia Tech in week nine and culminating in an uninspired 28-20 loss to Kentucky in the Music City Bowl, which kept Clemson unranked in the final polls.

Clemson vs. UNC Football Highlights (via sbfishy)

For video of the full game click here.

In 2011 Dabo Swinney's Clemson Tigers rolled into a week eight home matchup with the North Carolina Tar Heels at 7-0 and #8 in the country, while the ‘Heels, under interim head coach Everett Withers, came in with a respectable 5-2 mark. Having survived some early growing pains operating first-year offensive coordinator Chad Morris's HUNH offense against Troy and Wofford, run through a three-week gauntlet unscathed against #21 Auburn, #11 FSU, and @ #11 VT, and exorcised some demons in a road win over Maryland, a young Tiger team had emerged battle-tested and confident. That confidence produced points at a fast and furious pace on this particular Saturday afternoon in Death Valley, as the Tiger offense moved up and down the field at will. But in a troubling trend that would haunt defensive coordinator Kevin Steele's Tiger defense for the remainder of the year, the Tar Heels kept apace in the first half and the Tigers took just a 24-17 lead into halftime.

However the Tigers exploded for 35 points in the third quarter to put the game on ice. QB Tajh Boyd went 27/46 for 367 yards and 5 touchdowns with no interceptions, hooking up with WRs Deandre "Nuk" Hopkins (9rec/157yds/1TD) and Sammy Watkins (8rec/91yds/1TD), as well as TE Dwayne Allen (6rec/51yds/1TD) to put on an aerial display throughout the day. The Tigers racked up 450 total yards of offense and the Tiger defense, though porous to the tune of 418 total yards gained (316 through the air) by the ‘Heels, forced six turnovers (3 fumbles recovered, 3 interceptions) to aid in the rout. Senior defensive end Kourtnei Brown had a career day, returning a second-quarter interception 20 yards for a touchdown, then taking a third-quarter fumble recovery 26 yards for another score.

The Tigers emerged a perfect 8-0 after the 59-38 thrashing. North Carolina would go on to a 7-6 season, finishing unranked after an Independence Bowl loss to Missouri. The Tigers were riding high after the win, but would lose the following week to Paul Johnson's Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in Atlanta, beginning a late season slide wherein the Tigers dropped three of four games. They rebounded, however, to beat Virginia Tech for a second time in the ACC Championship game, winning 38-10 to secure the program's first ACC title since 1991 and a berth in a BCS bowl-a first for the program-vs. the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Discover Orange Bowl.

Clemson vs UNC Football Highlights 2011 (via sbfishy)

For video of the full game, click here

With this historical record at their back, the Tigers and Tar Heels both enter the 2014 matchup in need of a rebound (UNC fans: "Is it basketball season yet?") after suffering frustrating losses on the road (UNC lost 70-41 to the East Carolina Pirates in Greenville, NC, while Clemson snatched defeat from the jaws of victory against the #1 FSU Seminoles, losing 23-17 in Tallahassee, FL). Unfortunately for Coach Roy Williams' Larry Fedora's high-octane offense, the defense has been nothing short of inept through three games (29 points to Liberty and 27 to Marshall Faulk's own San Diego State  Aztecs before the purple-clad Pirates reached the endzone ten times). That doesn't bode well as the ‘Heels defense prepares for the impending confrontation with The Chad's HUNH offense, which is threatening to hit its stride under the direction of newly anointed field general Deshaun Watson. And no matter how many times the ‘Heels offense snaps it on Saturday evening, it doesn't figure to be enough to consistently dislodge what is shaping up to be one of, if not the, best defense in the nation. But as they say, that's why they play the game. So let's spot the ball and let ‘em have at it.