By Gray Gardner.
CLEMSON, SC – Clemson nation can’t get enough of freshman phenom Sammy Watkins.
Watkins has seen a fair share of media attention this season, including consecutive ACC Player of the Week honors and even some Heisman trophy talk from major media outlets like ESPN.
It comes with good reason, as Sammy’s stats speak for themselves: 28 receptions for 433 yards and 6 touchdowns in only four games. But what’s even more impressive are the intangibles Watkins brings to the table, which cannot be measured statistically.
Last week against Florida State, the true freshman scored on a 62-yard slant and go from the hand of quarterback Tajh Boyd – a play that Watkins himself called on third down.
Watkins said he knew at the line of scrimmage that the play would work.
“Pre-snap I just knew it because they had one safety high,” he said. “I said okay, it’s man to man. That safety is not going to make it over in time. So I just ran my route and depended on Tajh to get it out on time. He threw it kind of early but that’s how I liked it.”
The true freshman said the feeling on the sideline was great after successfully playing both the role of offensive coordinator and star receiver at the same time.
“I actually looked at Coach (Chad) Morris and said, ‘I told you it would work,’” Watkins said. “He looked at me like, ‘Man, you did it.’ It felt good.”
Watkins isn’t the only receiver on Clemson’s roster calling plays.
The freshman said Morris coaches all the receivers to call audibles to quarterback Tajh Boyd whenever they see one-on-one opportunities, much like Watkins did against Florida State. Reason being, Clemson’s receivers know they’re going to win every time in a one-on-one matchup.
“I think that’s how all our receivers think,” Watkins said. “Because we go against great DBs in practice and we just try ourselves with our DBs and other DBs and if we get a one-on-one – get us the ball. That’s what we tell Tajh. If one’s on us, get us the ball.”
“That’s what coach makes us tell Tajh – if you see one-on-one coverage, throw it. No matter what the play is, call it off and do what you got to do. Call it off and throw it.”
Watkins big audible came on third down and provided a conversion and a score that put the Tigers in position to win the game.
The Florida native has shown an immense amount of poise on third downs this season, as has the entire Clemson offense. But – as always – Watkins deferred credit for his success to someone other than himself.
“I think Coach (Morris) just stresses it so much in practice and we just practice over it,” he said. “He sits down and says, ‘We’re going to be the best third down team in the country, and we’re going to complete our passes.’ He just gets in our head like we’re going to be the best team ever – in history – so we just work on it a lot in practice.”
Such poise will be increasingly important as the Tigers take to the road for the first time this season, to a place where many Clemson teams in the past have gone to die – Blacksburg, Virginia.
The Virginia Tech Hokies haven’t been too kind to the Tigers the last several times they’ve played. But despite Clemson’s dismal past, Watkins said his team isn’t worried, and the he feels “very confident.”
“We’re just practicing and taking it as any other game,” he said.
Part of Watkins’ confidence – and the rest of this Clemson team’s confidence – was solidified with last week’s victory over Florida State. Sammy said that confidence will carry over to the Tigers’ game versus Virginia Tech.
“It just gave the offense confidence, like no one can stop us,” he said. “It’s like, don’t listen to the media or ESPN say that you can’t beat this team, or that this team is going to beat you. We just come in ready to play and we want it more.”
The Tigers’ young team will have to play in an environment Saturday night that they’re yet to face in 2011. Lane Stadium is known for being loud with crazed Hokie fans, and Watkins said he knows it will probably play a factor.
“I expect us to – first drive – to just be a little jittery,” Watkins said. “But after that, I think we’ll open up and play well.”
Watkins thinks the way Chad Morris utilizes nonverbal communication to call plays will lend the Tigers well in the midst of the noisy environment.
“It’s a lot of hand signals that you can just see instead of him calling the play out and calling things out,” he said.
According to Sammy Watkins, it will take more than loud Virginia Tech fans to derail the Clemson offense.
“We’re not going to be off our timing. They’re just going to have to stop our offense.”