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August 29, 2014

Q&A with Kyle King on Georgia vs. Clemson

Kyle graciously agreed to do a Q&A on Clemson since Danny Ford was busy playing Pai Gow in Macau (probably). Kyle has written a book on the rivalry that is a mush have for Georgia and Clemson fans. You can order it here.

What is your favorite game in the series?
1984. No. 2 Clemson rolls into Athens looking for all the world like a legitimate contender for a second national championship in a four-year span; no team in college football had had a better record over the previous three years than the Tigers. Clemson was up by two touchdowns at halftime, and it looked like the Tigers were going to justify their lofty ranking in a big way. However, the Bulldogs came storming back to stun Clemson, 26-23, thanks to a record-setting 60-yard field goal by Kevin Butler.

Sitting here 30 years later, we can see that that game marked the high point in the most epic half-decade of the rivalry, just before both titans began slipping back to the pack. That brief shining moment at the summit was immortalized at the time by two of the defining voices of Georgia lore: Lewis Grizzard wrote his most memorable column, an open letter to the son he one day hoped to have explaining why the boy had been named Kevin, and Larry Munson delivered his greatest play call from a home game. Most of Munson’s best moments came in other venues (“Run, Lindsay!” was in Jacksonville; “Look at the sugar falling from the sky!” was in Auburn; the “hobnailed boot” was in Knoxville), but that “100,000 mile” kick was his most notable highlight between the hedges.

(Ed note: I have a post in the hopper about the above referenced Grizzard article that'll post Saturday since it is the 30th anniversary of that game)

What is your best argument for playing Clemson every year?
Historically, the best argument for playing Clemson every year is that it is in our DNA as a program to do so. What most fans remember, and rightly so, is the fact that, during the Vince Dooley and Danny Ford eras, this was as big as any series in the country. Between 1977 and 1987, Georgia and Clemson went 5-5-1 against one another, with nine of those eleven meetings being decided by a touchdown or less, and both teams won national championships during that span.

The series’ heritage dates back much farther than that, though. Walter Riggs, the father of Clemson football, learned the game at Auburn under George Petrie, the founder of the Plainsmen’s gridiron program. Petrie became acquainted with the game as a graduate student at Johns Hopkins, where he was a classmate of Charles Herty, who, of course, brought football to Athens. That close connection, dating back to the very beginning, helps explain why, in the 20 seasons from 1897 to 1916, the only team Clemson played all 20 years was Georgia, and the only team Georgia played all 20 years was Clemson. Asking why we should play Clemson is like asking why we should wear red and black; it’s because it’s part of who we are.

Currently, the best argument for playing Clemson is that we now have a college football playoff, whose participants are chosen by a selection committee. Much to the chagrin of the rest of the sport, the SEC has elected to stick with an eight-game conference schedule for the foreseeable future, necessitating that the league’s members play at least one game against a non-conference heavyweight every year to avoid being accused of improving our records by feasting on cupcakes. Yes, I suppose the North Avenue Trade School technically qualifies (see what I did there?), but no one outside of the Peach State is giving us credit for that win. Playing Clemson could be the difference between a pretty good season and a shot at a national title.

Why a book on the Clemson game?
Because Cale Conley already wrote a book about Georgia-Florida, Bill Cromartie already wrote a book about Georgia-Georgia Tech, and I hate Auburn much too much to be impartial about that particular set of Tigers. Seriously, though, this book was a labor of love about a part of my youthful fandom that was slipping into history.

In 1995, I went to Lake Hartwell with two friends of mine, Pete Allen and Jeff Rogers, to attend what was then the last scheduled series meeting between Georgia and Clemson. I came back to Athens and wrote a column for The Red and Black about how the rivalry shouldn't be allowed to die. The idea for Fighting Like
Cats and Dogs began then, and, a decade and a half later, Pete, Jeff, and I spent a lot of hours in archives poring over old newspaper articles about the history of this series. I wrote this book because it’s a good story that’s fun to tell, and that’s worth remembering. When people ask me why college football means so much to me, I point to a copy of the book and say, “This is why.” I then tell them to go to to order their autographed copy.

What is the most important factor for Georgia this year?
Knocking the damned ball down.

What do you expect out of this game?
It’s a pretty good bet that this year’s meeting won’t be as high-scoring as last year’s meeting, since both teams are breaking in new starting quarterbacks and last year’s meeting was the highest-scoring in series history. This game should confirm the longstanding maxim that games are won and lost in the trenches, as each team’s defensive front is likely to have the edge on the other side’s offensive line.

As in baseball, where a batter who fails to get a hit 60 per cent of the time over the course of a season will be enshrined in Cooperstown for being a great hitter, this will be a war of attrition to see which team can attain the more manageable degree of failure. The winner will be the team whose offensive line is the less unsuccessful and whose special teams make the fewest mistakes. The loser will have lost it more than the winner will have won it.

No one will head for the exits early. Twelve of the last 18 meetings between these two teams have been decided by a touchdown or less, and three of the last four have been decided by a field goal or less. This one will go right down to the wire.

We’re liable to see a game closer to the 31-28 barn-burner between Georgia and Clemson at night in Sanford Stadium in 2002 than to the 13-7 clash between Georgia and Clemson at night in Sanford Stadium in 1982, but a single-digit margin is a pretty good bet.

If you’re expecting me to say I expect a Georgia victory, though, well, then I guess you haven’t spent enough time around Depressive Kyle to know better.


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