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Dark Territory Time Machine Article: Mount Rushmore - Clemson Quarterbacks

It’s summer! Let’s talk about the past!

NCAA Football: Trevor Lawrence Pro Day Handout Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Howdy folks, your friendly neighborhood STS historian is back for my summer series. This year I’m doing position group Mount Rushmore. This is where I have to try to pick the four guys who would be on a Mount Rushmore for their position from all, and I mean all, of Clemson football history. As usual, some positions are historically deeper than others and therefore more challenging. The fun is they become that much more debatable, particularly when you consider different eras and such. For example, it is quite possible that Kelly Bryant was better than every quarterback from Steve Fuller to Woody Dantzler but was only a starter for a year and four games. It just so happened a Rushmore guy came to town and took the job.

Here we go with the picks and the rationale. I could throw a bunch of career stats at you but I’d rather get into things I feel go beyond the stat sheets that went into my decisions. So without further ado, let’s begin.

1. Trevor Lawrence 2018-2020. Very easy choice. National champion quarterback of the best Tiger team ever and one of the top college teams of all time. Lawrence lost a total of two games as a starter in his career, both to undefeated opponents in the CFP playoffs/national championship. First Tiger ever to be selected #1 overall in the NFL draft. History will only deepen the legend of the long haired, golden armed kid from Cartersville, Georgia. In three years as a starter, he beat undefeated Alabama for a National Title, undefeated Notre Dame for a birth in that national title game, undefeated Ohio State for another birth in a national title game, and undefeated Notre Dame for a third straight college football playoff birth. Had he managed to upset LSU in the 2020 title game, it would have been hard to argue against him as the greatest college quarterback of all time even before the strange 2020-21 COVID year.

2. Deshaun Watson 2014-2016. Another very easy choice. Watson, of course, elevated Clemson to a level never seen in the history of the program. The Tigers became a team who could truly beat any opponent in any venue. He ended the Steve Spurrier hex on a torn ACL. He outdueled Lamar Jackson in one of the greatest college football games of the last 20 years. He beat Notre Dame in a 100 year rainstorm. He put one of the worst beatings ever on Urban Meyer and Ohio State. He took out Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma. His undeniable crown jewel was putting up 1000 yards of offense on two historically good Alabama defenses, including their undefeated 2016 team for that National Title. It is pretty laughable this man didn’t take home the Heisman trophy. As great as Lawrence was, Watson had to carry even more of a load to get the Tigers to the top.

3. Steve Fuller 1975-1978. Clemson’s other #4 legend and Ring of Honor member. Fuller was instrumental in helping Charlie Pell, then Danny Ford, put Clemson back on the map after wandering in relative mediocrity since Frank Howard’s 1959 team finished ranked 11th in the nation. Fuller’s crowning achievement at Clemson was defeating national power Ohio State in what would be Woody Hayes’s last game (thanks to the punch). Fuller’s freshman season was a miserable 2-9 campaign, but that win over Ohio State capped an 11-1 senior season and a #7 final ranking. Fuller was also one of the very few Clemson quarterbacks to have had an NFL career, most notably being a part of the legendary ‘85 Chicago Bears with fellow Clemson great William Perry.

Ok, so 1-3 were really easy choices. #4 was much, much, much harder to choose. The candidates on my mind: Woody Dantzler, Charlie Whitehurst, Rodney Williams, and Tajh Boyd. All four of these guys had incredible moments of individual glory and/or team success. All four set records of some kind during their time leading Clemson’s offense. Here are the cases for each:

Charlie Whitehurst (2002-2005). Whitehurst threw the ball in a way no Clemson quarterback really ever had thrown the ball before. His very first start was a then record 420 yard, 4 TD performance at Duke. He was the first Clemson Tiger QB to eclipse 3,500 yards passing in a season. Despite a roster of barely top 25 talent during his career, Whitehurst would defeat top 10 Florida State to break the ‘Noles iron grip over Clemson, top 10 Tennessee in a bowl game, and beat a top 10 Miami team in the Orange Bowl where they had been nearly unbeatable from the 1980s to that time. Whitehurst went 4-0 against U of SC and engineered the legendary 63-17 shellacking in Williams-Brice, truly putting the Lou Holtz “renaissance” to an end.

Woody Dantzler (1998-2001). Woody was truly a man ahead of his time. Clemson’s post Danny Ford talent dip reached its nadir during Dantzler’s career, but he was the perfect weapon for Rich Rodriguez’s spread zone/read attack. While Woody could never claim an ACC title or even a 10 win season, he still owns perhaps the two most dominant individual performances in Clemson history when he eclipsed 400, then 500 total yards in back to back games on the road against a top 10 Georgia Tech squad and then NCSU led by their generational QB Philip Rivers. No one had ever really run and thrown the ball the way Dantzler did in his historic 2001 campaign. Who knows what might have been had he been surrounded by talent comparable to what Watson and Lawrence and Boyd enjoyed, or even Whitehurst in 2003. Charlie’s ‘03 weapons were just true or redshirt freshmen during Woody’s final season.

Rodney Williams (1985-1988). Now, Rodney certainly won’t win the beauty contest with these other candidates in terms of individual talent or exploits, but there is something to be said for winning. Williams set the bar in that respect until the Dabo Swinney era took off with Tajh Boyd. Williams would lead the Tigers to 3-straight ACC titles, back-to-back wins over UGA, and bowl victories over Joe Paterno’s Penn State and Barry Switzer’s Oklahoma Sooners (and Switzer’s final game as OU coach).

Tajh Boyd (2010-2013). Boyd was the crown jewel of Dabo Swinney’s inaugural “Dandy Dozen” recruiting class and the trigger man for Chad Morris’s HUNH smash-mouth spread attack that took the ACC by storm in 2011. Boyd would go on to win 32 games in his three years as starter while obliterating every passing record in Clemson’s history, snapping a 20 year ACC title drought, and delivering two epic bowl victories over national powerhouses LSU and Ohio State. The only real black eye on this resume compared to the other candidates for spot 4 is never beating U of SC.

So, after much deliberation, my choice for the fourth spot on Clemson’s QB Mount Rushmore is...

4. Charlie Whitehurst: Charlie was a starter for nearly four complete seasons through three different offensive coordinators. His best weapons were Derrick Hamilton, Airese Currie, and Chansi Stuckey. Ultimately, only he and Boyd could really win a game with no running game to speak of from these contenders, but Boyd had Nuk Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant, Adam Humphries, Dwayne Allen, Charone Peake, Jaron Brown, and Andre Ellington who all collected or still collect NFL paychecks. Plus, Charlie was 4-0 against the chickens.