(WSPA) – The sports team at WSPA has created a ‘Top 10 Moments in Clemson Athletics History’ countdown. Starting Tuesday, April 14 we will be revealing portions of the list daily on WSPA Channel 7 News and online at wspa.com leading up to the top moment in Tigers history. Be sure to follow along as we break down these monumental achievements featuring interviews with former Clemson Sports Information Director and longtime color analyst Tim Bourret, who’s still heard on their radio network and works with the Clemson sports department covering Tigers Golf.
#7: 1978 Gator Bowl Win
The Clemson Tigers’ 1978 Gator Bowl win over Ohio State was significant for several reasons. It was Danny Ford’s first victory as a head coach, leading to a decade full of accomplishments. It was also against a powerhouse program in Ohio State, led by Hall of Fame coach Woody Hayes. And it marked the first bowl victory for the Tigers in 19 years.
Under the leadership of second year head coach Charley Pell, the Clemson Tigers were in prime position to make an impact as a program, and were ranked as high as 18th in preseason polling. They began the year 1-1 after a shutout loss to Georgia in Athens 12-0. That loss, however, kick-started a dominant run. Clemson defeated every remaining opponent by an average margin of 21 points en route to a 10-1 finish to the regular season, earning them the ACC title.
After earning an invitation to the Gator Bowl for the second straight year, Clemson received news it would play the contest with a different coach as Pell departed in mid-December for the top job at Florida.
Assistant Coach Danny Ford, just 30, was now the new head coach of the Tigers with a looming bowl game on the horizon against one of the most renowned college football programs.
“Coach Ford had the respect of the administration and a lot of the coaches when he was hired,” said former Clemson Sports Information Director Tim Bourret. “It was kind of a tall order for Coach Ford in his first game.”
The Game (December 29, 1978: Clemson vs. Ohio State)
The ‘78 Gator Bowl featured No. 7 Clemson and No. 20 Ohio State in Jacksonville. The Tigers were back for the second year in a row, and were looking for that bowl win that had eluded the program since 1959.
The Buckeyes, behind freshman quarterback Art Schlichter, drove down the field on their opening drive making their way inside the Clemson five-yard line. But the Tigers defense hung tough and came up with a huge defensive stop on fourth down, keeping OSU off the board.
But neither team could gain traction for much of the first half. Midway through the second quarter, the Buckeyes struck first nailing a field goal to put them up 3-0. That score seemed to spark both offenses.
Fourth-year quarterback and Spartanburg native, Steve Fuller, guided a 15-play, 80-yard drive on the ensuing possession ending with a four yard touchdown run by the three-time All-American. With just five minutes left in the half, the Tiger were up, 7-3.
Ohio State saw an opportunity to respond and took advantage. Schlichter led the Buckeyes to a touchdown with just over a minute left in the half. A blocked extra point attempt kept the score 9-7 Ohio State late in the second quarter.
The Tigers, however, weren’t going to just run out the clock into the break. Clemson made its way to the Ohio State 30-yard line in time to attempt a field goal. Obed Ariri kicked the 47-yarder through the uprights, giving the Tigers a 10-9 advantage at the half.
Freshman running back Cliff Austin provided the only points of the third quarter, capping off an 18-play, 83-yard drive with a one yard score for a 17-9 Clemson lead.
The back and forth continued.
Ohio State was knocking on the door once again in the fourth quarter, and Schlichter found the end zone bringing the Buckeyes within two points at the eight minute mark. On the two-point attempt to tie, Jim Stuckey corralled a scrambling Schlichter short of the goal line to keep the Tigers in front 17-15.
The resilient Buckeyes, though, got the ball back and made their way into Clemson territory.
But that’s when Ohio State’s fate was sealed.
At the Clemson 32-yard line, defensive lineman Charlie Bauman dropped back into coverage intercepting Schlichter’s pass, which all but secured victory. It was his only interception as a Tiger.
What happened at the end of the play made the 1978 Gator Bowl an infamous event, one that led to the firing of legendary coach Woody Hayes the next day.
“(Bauman) got run out of bounds and Woody Hayes struck him when he (got) up,” said Bourret. “I think what happened with Charlie Bauman at the end of the game brought more national attention to it.”
Clemson won the game, 17-15. And although most remember the game for the sideline scuffle, it was just as impactful because of what it signaled for years to come. T
The victory sparked the Danny Ford Era, resulting in a national title, five ACC championships, and six bowl victories through 1989.
“Until our recent success, the 1980s under Danny Ford was certainly looked at as the best decade in Clemson history,” said Bourret. “The program had the fifth-best winning percentage in college football for the 1980s.”
Three seasons later, Ford became the youngest coach (at 33) to win a national championship, a record he still holds to this day.
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