Oct. 15, 2008
With most of the stars of the 1977 team being members of the junior class, there was not a bandwagon big enough at the dawn of the 1978 season. The Tigers were ranked #18 in the AP preseason poll, their first preseason ranking since 1960.
After a 58-3 win over The Citadel in the opener, Clemson’s 100th all-time win in Death Valley, the Tigers went to Georgia for the second straight year. Clemson had earned an upset win by a 7-6 score the previous year. But this time, the upset was provided by the hometown Bulldogs, as Vince Dooley’s team came away with a 12-0 victory.
Tiger fans look back on this 1978 team and wonder how a team with six future NFL starters could have been shut out. Clemson moved the ball but had six turnovers, all inside the Georgia 28.
That loss would prove to be a fluke, as the 1978 team did not lose the rest of the year.
Clemson rebounded with four impressive wins in succession to return to the AP top 20 entering the N.C. State game in Raleigh.
All the pregame talk in Raleigh centered around N.C. State’s Ted Brown, but it was actually two Tigers named Brown who stole the postgame headlines.
Offensively, Lester Brown, who would end the season fourth in the nation in scoring, scored two touchdowns and rushed for 117 yards. Defensively, linebacker Bubba Brown had 18 tackles and was named national defensive player-of-the-week by Sports Illustrated. He was the prime reason Ted Brown gained just 70 yards on 21 carries and never reached the endzone.
The win at N.C. State set up a showdown for the ACC title at Maryland on November 18. Clemson entered the contest ranked #12 in the AP poll, while Maryland was #11. Both teams were undefeated in the ACC and had just one non-conference loss. The Terrapins had lost to #2 Penn State two weeks before meeting Clemson and had been ranked as high as #5 in the nation.
Clemson proved it should be ranked among the best in the nation with its performance at Maryland. The Tigers have never lost a game in their history when gaining at least 200 rushing yards and 200 passing yards, and they kept that streak intact that day at Maryland with 226 rushing yards and 216 passing yards in a 28-24 victory.
It was a day of big plays on both sides. First, Jerry Butler clinched AP First-Team All-America status with an 87-yard touchdown catch from Steve Fuller. After Steve Atkins ran 98 yards for a score to give Maryland a 21-14 lead, Fuller hit Dwight Clark for a 62-yard touchdown pass to tie the score. Chuck Rose recovered an onside kick with 1:56 left after a Maryland field goal and Fuller ran out the clock with some timely option runs.
The regular-season-finale was played in front of a record crowd of 78,000 fans against the Gamecocks. Clemson had been constructing the South upper deck stands, luxury suites, and press box during the season, and it had sold 15,000 tickets to the game prior to its completion. The structure was finished a full two days prior to the game, much to the relief of Athletic Director Bill McLellan.
The environment was electric, especially when Clemson jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter behind a running attack that would finish the game with 397 yards. Three different Tigers (Fuller, Marvin Sims, Lester Brown) all went over 100 yards rushing, the first time Clemson had three 100-yard rushers in a game since 1950. The Tigers coasted to a 41-23 victory, the ninth straight win to close the regular season. Clemson was again invited to the Gator Bowl after the game.
The Tigers improved to a #7 national ranking the following Tuesday, November 28. What should have been a week of rest and reflection for the Clemson administration turned to tumultuous times.
Tiger Head Coach Charley Pell had been named ACC Coach-of-the-Year for the second straight year and had taken a docile Clemson program that had won a combined five games in 1975 and 1976 to an 18-4-1 mark in his two years as head coach. The market for his services was off the charts and he knew his stock would never be higher. When Florida called, he listened.
On December 4, Pell accepted Florida’s offer to become its next head coach. Clemson acted quickly and named Danny Ford, then offensive line coach and assistant head coach, as his successor the next day. Ford would be the youngest Division I head coach in the nation and would coach his first game against the legendary Woody Hayes.
The Tigers led most of the game and had a 17-15 advantage after Ohio State scored in the middle of the fourth quarter. Jim Stuckey had stopped quarterback Art Schlichter on a two-point conversion attempt that would have tied the game.
Ohio State got the ball back with over three minutes left after a Tiger fumble. On third-and-five from the Clemson 24 with over two minutes left, Schlichter dropped back to pass. His throw over the middle was intercepted by sophomore Charlie Bauman, a second-team middle guard who had dropped into coverage. It would be the only interception of his four-year career.
Bauman returned the ball to the Clemson 36, where he was run out of bounds on the Ohio State sidelines directly in front of Hayes. After Bauman stood up, Hayes took a swing, hitting Bauman in the throat. Clemson ran out the clock to gain the 17-15 victory, its first win over a Big Ten team.
ABC never showed a replay, so the media at the game was not totally sure what had caused the fracas on the field.
Even Bauman said in the postgame interviews, “I think he may have hit me. I was face-to-face with him. There was a lot of commotion and in the excitement, I think he may have hit me. I just want to see the film.”
The next morning, Ford spoke for most of Tiger Nation about what had transpired the night before. “Coach Hayes is a great football coach and a great man. I hate to see it happen and hate that Clemson was involved in it. He’s done a lot for college football.”
The next afternoon, it was obvious to the Buckeye athletic administration that Hayes’ behavior could not be tolerated. He was fired after 25 years as the Buckeyes’ head coach.
After the victory, Clemson moved up to #6 in the final AP ranking, at the time, the highest final ranking in school history. It was quite a celebrated beginning for the young Ford.
Tim Bourret is Clemson’s Sports Information Director and is in his 31st year at Clemson.
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