By Gray Gardner.
CHARLOTTE, NC – Sammy Watkins is the most prolific wide receiver Clemson has seen in quite some time. The freshman put an exclamation point on an already outstanding rookie season this weekend by being named Overall Rookie and Offensive Rookie of the Year in the ACC and by helping his team to its first ACC title in twenty years.
Although the Tigers have underperformed on offense in each of the last four games, Watkins said he wasn’t worried about their performance heading into the ACC Championship, and that he was always confident in quarterback Tajh Boyd.
“I knew we were the best team, and when I saw Tajh having a big game, I knew it was going to be tough on them,” Watkins said. “He came out and played like he played in the first eight games and the whole team just played as a group.”
Boyd collected MVP honors for his play Saturday night after being a point of concern the previous four weeks. During that time Boyd turned the ball over Watkins said he never doubted Boyd’s ability.
“He was great. He was confident and just believed in the line and believed in us, and he sat in the pocket and looked like a champion tonight. He just played great.”
Boyd found Watkins on five occasions for 80 yards Saturday night including a 53-yard touchdown pass that put the game away for the Tigers. According to Watkins, the big play was sure to work from the start.
“We just held that play till we really needed it and when we wanted to put them away. We just held it out,” he said. “We knew it was going to work. When he called the play I was like, ‘Oh, it’s going to be a touchdown.’ I knew it.”
The score was the Florida native’s first big play in several weeks after suffering a shoulder injury and dropping a touchdown pass a week ago in Columbia. Watkins said it wasn’t hard to get past the big drop against his rival last week.
“It was pretty easy. I dropped a pass. I put it behind me. Great receivers drop passes. Terrell Owens, Julio Jones – so I wasn’t really worried about that.”
Watkins has certainly been a key to the Tigers’ offensive success this season. In Charlotte Saturday night, the freshman surpassed 2,000 all-purpose yards on the year – only the sixth time a player has done so in ACC history. Watkins said he didn’t expect to have this kind of season when he first came to Clemson, but quickly realized that he was going to be an integral part in Chad Morris’ system.
“(W)hen I actually came out to practice the first two or three weeks I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to be a big part,’” Watkins said. “Then the first three games I was like, ‘Okay, I’ve got to come and perform every game.’ If I don’t perform it’s going to be a bad night, bad day for the whole offense, because basically me and Tajh have a big part of the offense how we carry out our fakes and how we do our things.”
Watkins said the four game offensive slump in which Clemson lost three games can only be attributed to the players for their lack of execution and focus.
“It was more of us, not the coaches – they were doing their jobs. I would say we got complacent – we weren’t doing the little things right, like practicing hard, little details like blocking, just doing what the coaches were saying,” he said. “We were playing outside the offense instead of inside the offense. That’s what we did tonight.”
Watkins and Co. certainly must have done the “little things” right last week in practice. The group surpassed 450 offensive yards for 5 touchdowns in the 38-10 victory over Virginia Tech.
“Everyone played like a champion – from the defense, to the coaches – we all came together as a unit.”
Clemson’s players didn’t just play like champions Saturday night – they now wear the title.