By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — During practice earlier this week, Sammy Watkins made a few plays that lifted the eyebrows of defensive backs Xavier Brewer and Jonathan Meeks.
“We told each then, this is the week Sammy breaks out,” Brewer said following Clemson’s 42-13 victory over Wake Forest.
When Watkins hauled in a 57-yard pass from quarterback Tajh Boyd on the 13th-ranked Tigers’ third drive of the game, Brewer just looked at Meeks and nodded his head. The two seniors new it was on then and they knew Watkins was back.
Watkins came into Thursday night’s game with 24 catches for 202 yards this season, a number he doubled exactly to the yard against a Wake Forest defense that had no answer for the sophomore. The Fort Myers, Fla., native caught eight passes for 202 yards, including a 61-yard catch-and-run that gave Clemson a 14-0 lead on the first play of the second quarter.
“That first catch got me in the groove and got me on my toes, knowing I was going to touch the ball more during the game,” Watkins said. “It kept my head in the game and kept me warmed up and moving.”
He was moving like he did last year when he caught Boyd’s pass on the near sideline at midfield, broke a tackle and then made two players miss on his way to the 61-yard touchdown.
“That was a great throw by Tajh and a great catch by me. After that, I don’t know what happened. I just ran,” Watkins said.
He ran right into the record books. Watkins, who missed two games this year due to suspension and then a third because of a stomach bug, became the first player in Clemson history to amass more than 200 receiving yards in a game.
“The thing with Sammy, when I watch him practice, it is always there,” Boyd said. “To see him take it to another level in a game is always fun. The best part of me playing quarterback is watching all of these guys make plays, whether it is Andre (Ellington), Nuk (Hopkins) or Sammy. To see a guy like that get in space and take off is always fun.
“I love watching him play out there.”
Many wondered when Watkins, who set school and ACC records on his way to All-American honors last season, would get back to his old form. Because of the suspension, he said he wasn’t in football shape and then the stomach bug, which caused him to miss the Boston College game on Sept. 29, set him back even further.
“That was my biggest down fall,” he said. “I wasn’t in shape. I was in terrible shape in the Florida State game, but now I’m preparing like I did last year and practicing hard.”
And practice made perfect, at least on Thursday night when Sammy Watkins looked like Sammy Watkins again.
“Maybe everybody will quit asking me about Sammy Watkins now,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.