The Clemson Tigers won their second football national championship in the last three years with an impressive blowout victory over the heavily favored Alabama Crimson Tide. Coach Dabo Swinney has done an incredible job in his ten years as Clemson’s head coach building the football program into a juggernaut. Here are four key moments during Clemson’s record-breaking undefeated season that helped propel Clemson to the National Championship.
Tight Win Over Texas A&M
Clemson’s toughest test came in the second week of the season when they went on
the road to face the Texas A&M Aggies. Quarterbacks Kelly Bryant and Trevor
Lawrence both struggled to handle the loud atmosphere early in the game. Bryant
eventually settled into the game and led his team on two touchdown drives early in
the second half, which was enough to get the 28-26 win.
Elevating Trevor Lawrence to Starting Quarterback
Dabo Swinney made one of the most shocking coaching decisions of the year when
he benched Kelly Bryant in favor of freshman Trevor Lawrence. Bryant led Clemson
to the playoffs in 2017, but Swinney was concerned about his lack of growth
passing the football. The move ended up paying huge dividends as Lawrence
played amazing the rest of the season. Clemson likely fails to beat Alabama without
the freshman’s ability to throw the ball down the field.
Comeback Win Over Syracuse
Clemson’s second test of the season came against the Syracuse Orange in Trevor
Lawrence’s first game as the starting quarterback. Lawrence had to leave the game
after suffering an injury in the first half. The injury and Kelly Bryant’s transfer forced
the Tigers to rely on third-string quarterback Chase Brice to win the game. Brice
had his struggles against the tough Syracuse defense, but he still led his team on a
94-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes to secure the 27-23 win.
Defense Shuts Down Alabama
Not a lot of people outside of the state of South Carolina expected Clemson to
defeat Alabama in the title game. Freshman quarterbacks traditionally struggle
against defenses led by Nick Saban. The Clemson defense was also supposed to
have a hard time stopping the explosive passing attack of Alabama. The experts were quickly proven wrong as Clemson held Alabama to only 16 points, which was their lowest total of the entire season.
Record-setting UNC Quarterback
- UNC 4-Year Starting Quarterback (1976-1979)
- Set 19 season and career UNC passing record
- Two still remain: Most Wins as a Starting QB (24) and Most Consecutive Games with a Touchdown Pass (13)
- Set ACC record for touchdown passes in one season (18)
- Winner of MVP Award for Liberty and Gator Bowls
- 1st player in ACC history to win two MVP awards in Bowl Games
Matt Kupec has been a leader throughout his life.
A three sport star – football, basketball and baseball – in high school Matt earned many honors and awards including leading his HS football squad to an undefeated season and #1 ranking as the top High School team in the entire New York state.
At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Matt was a record-breaking four-year starting quarterback. He led 3 Tar Heels teams to bowl games and he was the 1st player in ACC History to earn two Bowl Game MVP awards.
About Matt Kupec
College Football Career
Two of Matt Kupec’s records still remain at UNC – most consecutive games in a row with a touchdown pass (13) and co-holder of most wins as a starting UNC quarterback (24).
Matt also was the 1st player in ACC history to be named Most Valuable Player of two separate bowl games, and additionally he led the ACC in a number of passing categories during his senior year including most touchdown passes (18) which at the time set an ACC record. The Tar Heels enjoyed very successful seasons during Matt Kupec’s years at UNC, going 30-15-2 and being invited to play in 3 bowl games during Matt’s career.
Here are some season and individual highlights. Total individual and team records can be found in a chart at the end of the college football career section:
1976 (Freshman Year)
After watching from the sidelines for the first five games, Matt Kupec was inserted into the starting lineup as the quarterback against archrival North Carolina State University. Although the Tar Heels would lose that home game – and Matt would throw an interception on his first passing attempt (rough way to start!), the Tar Heels finished the season at 9 wins and 2 losses and were invited to the Peach Bowl. UNC was one of only two ACC teams invited to bowl games that season. The Heels key offensive player was TB Mike Voight who was named ACC Player of the Year and All-American.
In recognition of his performance, Matt Kupec was named Honorable Mention Football News Freshman All-American team.
UNC would lose to Kentucky, 21-0, in a frigid Fulton County stadium in the 1976 Peach Bowl. The frigid conditions and frozen tundra reminded many of the Dallas Cowboys at Green Back Packers classic NFL Championship Game when Bart Starr sneaked in the game winning touchdown for the Packers. The ground was frozen and it was tough to grip the football.
The highlight of the game for UNC occurred on the 2nd play from scrimmage when Matt audibled into a deep pattern and threw a perfect spiral in the arms of WR Walker Lee for a 50 yard touchdown pass. Unfortunately, offensive guard John Rushing had lined up offside and the touchdown was negated by an offside penalty. UNC would not score again!
1977 (Sophomore Year)
Fueled by the number of returning starters including All-American DT Dee Hardison and with the arrival of a wealth of talented newcomers like the great Lawrence Taylor (yes, NFL Hall of Famer LT!), running back “Famous” Amos Lawrence, and future 1st rounder defensive lineman Donnell Thompson, the Heels were picked by many to compete for the ACC Football Championship.
And disappoint they did not! The Tar Heels finished the regular season at 8-2-1 as ACC Champions and were invited to play in the 1977 Liberty Bowl game vs. the powerhouse Nebraska Cornhuskers from the Big 8 Conference.
Passing was not in play during the 1977 season! UNC had the top-rated defense in the country. Throw in a running game fueled by Famos Amos, and one could see that Coach Bill Dooley had little interest in throwing the football. Coach Dooley was a throwback to old school fundamentals. One of his favorite expressions was, “remember, when you throw the ball three things can happen (completion, incompletion, interception) and 2 of the 3 are bad.” Needless to say, there were games – when as the quarterback – Matt had the best seat in the house because all they did was run! But did they run it well!
Matt Kupec’s statistics for the season were very modest. After taking a beating against a top-ranked Kentucky Wildcat defense on opening day (can you believe Kentucky went 11-1 that season). Matt had solid games against Richmond and Northwestern. But then in the game against Northwestern, late in the game with Matt playing well and the Tar Heels well in the lead, Matt got hit in the leg during an option run and left the game due to injury. The strained knee ligaments forced Matt Kupec to miss the Texas Tech game and really hindered his productivity for most of the year.
As a reward for being the ACC champion, UNC battled the Nebraska Cornhuskers under 1st year coach Tom Osbourne who would go on to a legendary coaching career. The game was played on Monday night and it was again a very cold evening in Memphis for a bowl game.
The Tar Heels came out very scrappy and had the lead until a late Matt fumble gave the Cornhuskers the ball and they converted that turnover into a late game winning touchdown. Matt Kupec played so well that he was named the Most Valuable Player even though the Tar heels wound up losing the game. But clearly the Tar Heels showed they could compete with anyone on the national scene.
1978 (Junior Year)
Coming off an ACC Championship and with 17 starters returning from the 8-3-1 season, expectations were extremely high for the 1978 Tar Heels. Some pundits were even predicting a Top Ten season and perhaps a major bowl game for UNC.
There was one problem, though. Coach Dooley had left immediately after the 1977 season to take the dual job as Athletic Director and Head Football Coach at Virginia Tech. Dick Crum from Miami (Ohio) was ushered in too much fanfare and a promise to install a new, wide open offense that would bring touchdowns, great offensive statistics and many wins. “Steer clear, the veer is here,” were the bumper stickers and billboards around Chapel Hill proudly displayed as Coach Crum brought the vaunted new triple option with passing offense into would fill the air of beautiful Kenan Stadium.
Those lofty expectations faded quickly after squeaking out a disappointing home opening win against East Carolina the Tar Heels had consecutive losses to Maryland and Pittsburgh. Three games into the season, the “veer” was dropped and the Tar Heels returned to the old reliable I formation.
The Heels finished at 5-6, a very disappointing season. Matt Kupec had suffered a concussion against Pittsburgh and missed the next game against Miami (OH) and then sat for a couple of games before regaining his starting quarterback job for the season closing games.
The highlight of the season was the finale against Duke. Trailing 15-3 with just over 4 minutes to play, Matt engineered 2 scoring drives that was topped off with Famous Amos Lawrence taking a spring draw running play into the end zone with just seconds remaining on the clock to lift the Heels to a dramatic 16-15 win over arch rival Duke.
1979 Season (Senior Year)
After the very disappointing 1978 season, the Tar Heels had an extremely demanding off season in getting ready for a season that would include opening games against the University of South Carolina (with George Rogers at RB) and the Pittsburgh Panthers (a team that would wind up going 11-1 for the season.
With the transition to Dick Crum more settled, the Heels opened the season with an impressive 28-0 thrashing of the South Carolina Gamecocks. A balanced offense with Matt Kupec at QB and Famous Amos at RB had a very impressive debut. A new addition was the emergence of TE former walk-on Mike Chatham who would catch an ACC record 8 touchdown passes during the year.
Next game was against the very highly ranked University of Pittsburgh Panthers. With 7 defensive starters who would go on to start in the NFL and an offense introducing freshman QB Dan Marino, the Panthers were loaded.
But on the third play of the game, Matt Kupec launched a 43 yard scoring strike to a streaking Phil Farris that sent the Tar Heel faithful into a frenzy and stunned the Panthers. UNC went on to win 17-7 as Matt accounted for both Tar Heel touchdowns.
Two more wins moved the Tar Heels to 4-0 and a #12 ranking in the national pools. Enthusiasm was as high as every in Chapel Hill for the football team.
Sadly, that ended the following week when upstart and underdog Wake Forest pulled off a startling upset of the Heels on the Kenan Stadium turf. The Tar Heels wound up finishing the regular season 7-3-1.
Of note, the Heels were #5th in the ACC at 3-3-1 but recorded out of conference knocked off South Carolina, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Army. Those wins helped the Tar Heels earn a bowl bid to the prestigious Gator Bowl to face the mighty University of Michigan Wolverines.
What a game it turned out to be!
Before a sellout crowd of more than 70,000 people and playing before 1 million television viewers on a Friday night, the Tar Heels took on and beat the Wolverines from the Big Ten. Matt Kupec and Amos Lawrence shared co-MVP awards as the Tar Heels outlasted Michigan to win this Gator Bowl classic 17-15. The highlight of the game was the game winning 15 play, 97 yard game winning touchdown drive engineered by Matt. Mixing runs and passes, the Tar Heels went the distance against the vaunted Michigan defense to take the lead in the closing minutes of the game.
UNC wound up being #15 nationally, the only ACC team to be ranked.
Pro Football: A Quick Cup of Coffee with the NFL
Following the completion of his career at UNC, Matt Kupec signed a free agent contract with the Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League.
Disappointed at not being drafted, Matt was immediately called after the draft ended and had lunch the following day with the Seattle Seahawk representative at Crook’s Corner, a great eating establishment.
Matt Kupec was the most heralded of the four free agent QB’s signed by the Seahawks due to his successful career at a major program that included Bowl Game participation in three separate bowl games. Matt’s roommate at Seattle was a quarterback from a little known college – Milton College – that eventually went out of business. His name was Dave Krieg. He went on to be the Seattle starting QB for years and play in the NFL for nearly 20 seasons.
The Early Years: High School Football
Matt Kupec has always been a leader throughout his life. Born and raised in Syosset, NY on Long Island, he enjoyed a prolific high school career as an outstanding student-athlete. A three sport star – football, basketball and baseball – Matt earned many honors and awards including prep All-American in football where he led his Syosset HS football squad to an undefeated season and #1 ranking as the top High School team in the entire New York state.
With many full scholarship offers to choose from following his successful football career, Matt Kupec chose to accept a full scholarship to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill because of its high academic standing and strong football program.