Note: The following appears in the SC State gameday football program. To purchase a copy of the program while supplies last, send a check for $6 to Clemson Athletic Communications; P.O. Box 31; Clemson, SC 29633 with your return address.
Since the turn of the century, football has been focused more and more on the offensive side of the ball. No-huddle and hurry-up varieties have led possessions to rise, yards to increase and scoreboards to light up. Today, a 9-6 score between two teams could easily be a first-quarter total with both teams missing extra points.
Teammates from the 1991 ACC champion Tigers, celebrating their 25-year reunion this afternoon, will enjoy reminiscing about the 13th ACC title in Clemson history. There is no question the style of play may have been different in 1991 than it is today, but the results and expectations are still the same at Clemson.
The 1991 team, which posted a 9-2-1 overall record and an ACC mark of 6-0-1, continued the Tiger tradition of outstanding defense. In 1990, Clemson had the best defense in the nation. There was very little decline in 1991.
The 1991 squad only allowed 273.6 yards per game and 15.4 points per contest. The names of some of the defenders, Ed McDaniel, Rob Bodine, Levon Kirkland, Ashley Sheppard, Wayne Simmons and Brentson Buckner, are still remembered today.
Buckner, a sophomore defensive tackle on the 1991 squad and now in his fourth season as defensive line coach for the Arizona Cardinals after a 12-year NFL career, has seen the game tilt towards the offense in recent years. But Buckner still stays true to his belief that defense is the key to competing for championships.
“If you limit big plays and keep the scoring total down, you are going to win most of the time,” said Buckner. “Fans today want to talk about points and scoring, but a good defense is key to winning on a consistent basis.
“When I was playing, first at Clemson and then in the NFL, defense was what teams hung their hats on. I would love to see some low-scoring games, but most fans would be bored with that result.”
When looking back on that 1991 campaign, one the most memorable contests was just what Buckner alluded to, a 9-7 outcome. Georgia Tech, which shared a split national title with Colorado in 1990, came to Clemson on September 28. In 1990, the Yellow Jackets won 21-19 in a contest that ended on a missed 57-yard field-goal attempt by Chris Gardocki.
Clemson was determined to return the favor in 1991, and it did. A late Ronald Williams touchdown gave Clemson a 9-7 lead with just minutes remaining. Georgia Tech managed to drive into field-goal range, but a Scott Sisson boot sailed wide right to give Clemson its 11th consecutive home ACC victory.
“We felt like we owed Georgia Tech one,” admitted Buckner.
The Columbus, Ga., native recalled the sour taste the 1990 contest had left.
“In Atlanta, we moved the ball up and down the field but could not get in the endzone,” remembered Buckner.
It is still one of just two games in history the Tigers rushed for 300+ yards, yet lost.
“I think if Chris Gardocki had not gotten his foot a little under the ball, people would still be talking about that kick.”
Buckner’s current role as a defensive line coach for the Cardinals allows him to return to Clemson when Tiger players are preparing for the draft. This past June, he also brought his son, Brandon, and worked a session of the Dabo Swinney Football Camp. A trip back to Clemson is always enjoyable one for the personable Buckner. The success the Tigers are now enjoying makes it that much sweeter when he is in Clemson or Arizona.
“Dabo and his entire staff deserve so much credit,” said Buckner. “I see it each year when preparing for the draft. Clemson is preparing players for the next level. Any time you turn on the TV or radio, people are talking about Clemson. With the way they are winning games and recruiting, it is going to continue.
“When I was in Clemson this summer, I was joking with coach Swinney and coach Woody McCorvey. I told them after the new football operations building is complete, the only thing left will be to add seats above the Hill.
“I can’t wait to see what is next!”
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