The game was played on December 27, 1986 at Gator Bowl Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida and it was the 42nd edition of the bowl game. Through a sponsorship agreement announced that November, the bowl was officially known that year as the Mazda Gator Bowl.
Stanford, under third year head coach, Jack Elway, was making their first bowl appearance since the 1978 Bluebonnet Bowl. The Cardinal was led by running back Brad Muster, only the second Cardinal back to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. Stanford’s starting quarterback, John Payne, was sidelined for the game due to a shoulder injury and backup Greg Ennis was named the starter.
Coach Danny Ford’s Tigers completely dominated the first half of the game. Clemson recorded 291 yards of offense with 15 first downs and scored touchdowns on runs from quarterback Rodney Williams and backs Chris Lancaster and Ray Williams. David Treadwell also added two field goals to put the Tigers up 27–0 at the half.
Stanford didn’t roll over though. In the second half they held the Tigers scoreless while methodically chipping away at and making the score closer. Muster scored on a one yard run in the third quarter and then twice more on fourth quarter passes from Ennis.
The Cardinal had several chances to tie or win the game but Clemson intercepted Ennis inside the 10 yard line on one drive, and then turned the Cardinal away on a turnover on downs with less than two minutes remaining.
Clemson finished 8-2-2 overall and 5-1-1 in the conference, which gave them the ACC Championship.