When you talk about greatest individual performances in Clemson history, a very strong case can be made for the exploits of Woody Dantzler in Raleigh, North Carolina on October 13th, 2001. The new car shine was still on the Tommy Bowden regime at that point in the season. Clemson had just come off a 9 win campaign in 2000 where the team had reached the top 10 before losing 3 out of 4 to end the year. Dantzler was back along with by far the best recruiting class Clemson had seen since 1991, featuring 5 star WR Roscoe Crosby. Even though Rich Rodriguez had left for West Virginia, most fans felt the offense would retain his HUNH system built around the dynamic talents of Dantzler. Clemson lost a head scratching game at home to UVA in game 3, but rebounded to miraculously defeat then #9 ranked GT in Atlanta in overtime just two weeks before when Dantzler seemed to have a career game that would never be topped...until now.
Clemson came in at 3-1 and ranked 16th while NCSU was 3-1. The Pack featured quarterback Philip Rivers and wideouts Bryan Peterson and Jerricho Cotchery. Rivers had put a scare into Clemson the year before, nearly spoiling the undefeated campaign in Death Valley as a freshman. The Tiger defense, which was extremely young and had already lost Altroy Bodrick to injury (whom Reggie Herring claimed was as good as Anthony Simmons before he got hurt that fall), showed major cracks against Georgia Tech. The Tigers had an open date coming into this one, but were still banged up and missing Crosby for this game. I settled into my chair with the TV tuned in, anxious and nervous about how the Tigers would fare.
It didn’t take long for Woody to make his presence known. The Tigers ran a little option play on the first drive and the Wolfpack seemingly had it defensed perfectly. Penetration nearly tripped Woody up as the right guard and tackles were beaten badly off the snap. The linebacker had the edge set and the DE had the inside gap covered, leaving the safety free to come down and take the pitch. But in true Houdini fashion, Dantzler flashed his uncanny balance, cut back away from the play design, and proceeded to jet 51 yards for a TD. Rivers answered with two TD passes to Cotchery, signaling the shootout that was to come.
Clemson fans were well aware of Dantzler’s running ability. He had shredded Virginia the year before for 220 yards on the ground. However, he was ready to flash his arm more than ever before in this game and began doing that to take advantage of the Wolfpack’s increasing efforts to stop the run. Clemson was having to operate with JJ McKelvey and Matt Bailey as the veterans at WR, with freshmen Derrick Hamilton and Airese Currie learning on the fly while Roscoe Crosby was out injured. No matter, Dantzler calmly delivered a short crosser to Hamilton for a score before abusing the Pack with wheel route plays and throwbacks to Travis Zachary and Ben Hall.
Other highlights would include Dantzler delivering a beautiful deep ball to Airese Currie for 79 yards (still couldn’t believe Currie didn’t score on that). At that time, 300 yard passing games were a rare sight, even with the advent of the spread offense Bowden brought in, but Woody would finish the day 23-27 for 333 yards and a then record 4 TD passes. On top of that was his usual rushing exploits, often following the lead of Travis Zachary on draws or just flat out scrambling on passing calls, for a total of 184 yards and 2 more TDs. All total, Woody went for 517 yards BY HIMSELF and 6 TDs. Though the Tigers were mostly in control that day in Raleigh, Rivers displayed his usual lack of quit and kept the Pack hanging around with 310 yards and 4 TD passes of his own. Woody’s performance was just too much and the Tigers won 45-37 to get to 4-1.
Unfortunately, the season took a downturn the next week when Julius Peppers and the North Carolina defense stoned Dantzler and the Tigers 38-3. Clemson would go just 2-4 the rest of the season before winning the Humanitarian Bowl over Louisiana Tech to send Woody out a winner. A true Clemson legend and one of the most fun players to watch in all my years of following Clemson football.
Here are a couple of videos highlighting this epic performance. The second one features current Miami head coach Manny Diaz who was on the NCSU staff at that time.