As we navigate this crazy COVID-19 experience which has thrust us into the Dark Territory much earlier than expected and indefinitely, I thought I’d revisit a few historically good individual performances from Clemson players of the past. I’d love to hear your memories of that same game if you were there or watched it happen on TV in the comments. These are all based on my direct experience either being there or watching it on live broadcast. Some of these performances came in losses, unfortunately, but were noteworthy nonetheless.
One of the things I wanted to do with this series is pay homage to some of my all-time favorite Tigers, some of whom flew under the radar on a national stage. I started with Tony Horne and his 1997 FSU game performance.
Today, I flip to the other side of the ball to another undersized guy who played WAY bigger than he was: Jamaal Fudge. The “Candyman” as we would come to call him was listed at just 5’10” 190 as a safety (and that height listing was generous) but was absolutely fearless patrolling the middle of the field and coming down into the box for run support.
Clemson’s 2003 season was perhaps the most enigmatic in school history. The Tigers started off with a miserably disheartening 30-0 drubbing at the hands of the hated UGA Bulldogs, then rebounded with 3 straight wins, highlighted by a rare blowout win in Atlanta (in those days) over GT (which would be the only win down there until 2016). Just when you thought things were OK, the Tigers went up to Maryland and lost after scoring just 7 points. That set up the game this article focuses on, the 2003 UVA game.
Later that season, the Tigers would be embarrassed at Wake Forest 45-17 (with a third quarter score of 45-0), nearly costing Coach Tommy Bowden his job, before the team rebounded to notch the biggest win since 1989 with a 26-10 win over then #3 ranked Florida State. That launched a dominant four game win streak of blowouts over Duke, U of SC (63-17! LOL), and then #6 Tennessee in the Peach Bowl.
If you are a younger or more recent Tiger fan accustomed to the dominance of the Dabo Swinney era, you might be surprised to know that UVA came to Death Valley in 2003 with a more talented roster. Al Groh’s initial stretch in Charlottesville featured some major recruiting success, and the ‘03 team was coming off a 2nd place ACC finish the year before and had the reigning ACC player of the year Matt Schaub at quarterback. The Cavs were the ranked team that day in Death Valley.
Clemson dominated the first half of play statistically but only led 10-0 at the half after going just 2-4 in the red-zone. Schaub came out firing in the second half as UVA abandoned the running game altogether, leading the Cavs back to a 14-10 lead. Another long drive looked like it was going to lead to another UVA touchdown, but that is when the Candyman rose up and made one of the biggest defensive plays of the season. The Cavs featured two excellent tight ends that year in Patrick Estes and future Steelers star Heath Miller. Schaub had already connected with both for TD passes earlier in the third quarter and looked to hit the 6’5” 258 pound Miller again over the middle of the end zone when Fudge delivered a crushing hit to break up the pass and force a field goal. I was sitting in the West Stands, so the play was right in front of me. It helped swing momentum back to Clemson who would take the lead again 24-17. The Cavs answered with a late TD to tie the game and send it to OT, where Charlie Whitehurst hit Kevin Youngblood on a 4-yard fade pass to secure the 30-27 win .
UVA’s gameplan started with trying to pound the run game with running backs Alvin Pearman and Wally Lundy, but the Tiger defense was extremely stout against them. When they turned to the passing game, they featured Pearman and the tight ends moreso than the wide receivers, putting extreme pressure on the safeties (particularly Fudge) to make plays in space and in coverage. Fudge responded with 20 tackles, an interception, and that memorable pass breakup in the endzone on Heath Miller. Fudge’s total tied a Tiger record for tackles by a defensive back, and he would go on to finish 2003 with 116 tackles.
This was a critical win at the time during (in those days) a brutal stretch of games with Maryland, UVA, and NCSU. The Tigers were underdogs in all three, but going 1-2 was a lot better than 0-3. Guys like Fudge had to be ironmen in those days because of the lack of depth in the program, and Fudge’s super high tackle totals were always accompanied by super high snap counts.
While I wasn’t able to find video to use for this game, I will include THIS play by Fudge in that year’s FSU game when he came down to fill on Greg Jones of Florida State, another guy who was much bigger than him.
So all hail the Candyman, a Clemson legend in my eyes.