Mike Williams spent 364 days wishing he could play football again. In his grand return after a neck injury cost him all but one series in 2015, the redshirt junior showed fans why it was worth the wait.
Williams put on a show at the exact time second-ranked Clemson needed him most, accounting for almost 40 percent of the team’s total yards and 70 percent of the team’s receiving yards in Saturday’s 19-13 victory at Auburn. The Tigers’ top vertical threat was repeatedly targeted in one-on-one coverage downfield—14 times, as a matter of fact—and he delivered a quality reception more often than not.
For the game, Williams hauled in nine balls for 174 yards. He previously caught nine passes once, in the bowl win over Oklahoma in 2014, and his old career-best mark for receiving yardage was 155. In a game in which every Clemson offensive possession felt like a grind and every yard gained felt like swimming upstream, Williams was the one weapon that seemed unfazed by the Auburn defense.
The Vance native did not factor into the offensive gameplan at all in the first quarter. On Clemson’s first scoring drive, however, he was front and center. Deshaun Watson targeted him on the first four pass attempts of the possession, including completed passes on the first and third plays of the drive that combined for 37 yards. He caught three passes for 51 yards in the sequence before Wayne Gallman’s short touchdown run punctuated the drive.
After his fumble cost the Tigers a potential score, Williams once again factored was again a factor at the end of the half, hauling in two of four targets for 40 yards—and drawing a critical third-down pass interference penalty—on a possession that ended in a field goal.
Another conversion came courtesy of Williams when Watson found him for a 15-yard gain on third-and-six on Clemson’s first drive of the third quarter. That series ended in another field goal. Williams’ longest catch of the day put Clemson into the red zone early in the fourth quarter. He hauled in a 34-yard reception down to the Auburn 12 on a drive that featured a Hunter Renfrow touchdown grab.
In all four of Clemson’s scoring drives, Williams was prominently featured. He was the lone constant threat on the field for the Tigers at all times. The chemistry between him and Watson was strong, so strong that it seemed as if Williams had not missed a year’s worth of action. That chemistry may have been the biggest reason Clemson escaped Auburn with a six-point victory to open the season.