By Will Vandervort
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Sammy Watkins says eighth-ranked Clemson is no longer playing Mr. Nice Guy. When the Tigers have someone on the ropes and it is time to finish them off, they are going for the knockout blow.
Clemson had two such blows in its 59-10 victory over Virginia Saturday in Scott Stadium. The first came with an 86-yard touchdown drive that took only 42 seconds to complete and the other was a 96-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Tajh Boyd to Watkins on the Tigers’ third play of the third quarter.
“We need to go out with a bang and have fun,” said the Clemson wide receiver. “This is what it is about here in November. You have to show everyone that you are a top 10 team now and not just in September.”
The Tigers (8-1, 6-1 ACC) were showing off their top 10 worthiness and it’s killer instinct when it got the ball at its own 14-yard line with 55 second left to play in the first half. Leading 28-7 at the time, it would have been easy for Clemson, and understandable, to call it a half and have Boyd take a knee. But like Boyd said after the game, “football can be a funny game” and anything can happen.
Clemson knew it had Virginia up against the ropes and it wanted to finish the Cavaliers off and take away any hopes they had of a comeback.
It turned out to be the best drive of the season to this point.
On the first play, Boyd dropped back and hit freshman wide receiver Mike Williams for an 11-yard gain to the 25. He then found Germone Hopper, another freshman, on the next play for seven yards, who got out of bounds and stopped the clock.
Facing second-and-three from his 42, Boyd connected with Watkins for 10 yards along the sideline for another first down, which again stopped the clock. Then feeling pressure on the next play, Boyd rushed for one yard and called timeout with 32 seconds to play.
On second down-and-nine from his own 43, Boyd found Williams again down the sideline, this time for 19 yards and a first down at the Cavaliers’ 38. On the next play he hit Watkins, again, for a 12-yard gain going out of bounds and a first down on the Virginia 26.
Then Boyd changed things up and found Adam Humphries streaking on a post route for a 25-yard gain to the Virginia one-yard line with 17 seconds left. After Clemson and Virginia both called timeouts, Boyd concluded the drive by diving through the pile for a one-yard score with 13 seconds left.
That gave the Tigers a 35-7 lead at the break.
“That was probably our best drive of the year, just because we were out there playing,” Boyd said. “We weren’t really thinking. Coach (Chad Morris) put us in the situations to go out there and make plays and cut it loose.”
Boyd and Watkins did cut it loose on the Tigers’ first possession of the second half. Again backed up against his own goal line and facing a third-and-15 from the four, Boyd launched a rocket down the right side for a streaking Watkins who ran under the bomb around midfield and then out ran the Virginia secondary for a 96-yard touchdown – the second longest play and pass play from scrimmage in Clemson history. The only play longer is a 97-yard pass from Mark Fellers to Craig Brantley which came against Virginia at Clemson in 1974.
Watkins was so far ahead of everyone else on the field, he jogged the remaining 15 yards into the end zone.
“Sammy Watkins was awesome,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.
Watkins finished the day with eight catches for 169 yards and two scores, catching a 33-yard touchdown pass from Boyd on the Tigers’ opening drive of the game.
The 96-yard touchdown was the second time this season Boyd and Watkins combined to complete a scoring play of 90-plus yards. They also connected for a 91-yard touchdown at Syracuse last month. They are the only two players in the country who can claim that this year.
“Our coaches have been leaving us on the edge and did a great job of calling the game,” Watkins said.
Other Notes from Saturday’s win at Virginia
Big margin of victory. Clemson’s 59-10 victory over the Cavaliers was its largest margin of victory in an ACC road game since a 55-0 win at Virginia in 1984.
Road Warriors. Clemson finishes its ACC road record with a 4-0 mark, the first time Clemson has gone 4-0 on the road in the ACC since 1995. The 59 points scored were the most points scored by the Tigers on an opponent’s home field since they won at South Carolina, 63-17, in 2003.
This was Clemson’s eighth consecutive win away from the home, the longest streak since Clemson had a nine-game streak away from home from 1978-79.
Poll watch. Saturday’s win should keep Clemson in the top 10 of both polls for the 11th straight week when they come out later today. That will be the longest streak in Clemson history. The 1981 team had a 10-week streak on the way to winning the National Championship.
Record day. Boyd became the ACC’s career leader in touchdown responsibility when he threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Sammy Watkins on Clemson’s first possession and fifth play of the game. He now has 116 touchdowns for his career, 93 passing and 23 rushing.
Boyd now has 93 career touchdown passes, just two short of Rivers 95, the ACC record.
It was also Boyd’s 29th win as Clemson’s starting quarterback, three short of Rodney Williams’ record of 32 for a career. Boyd tied the Clemson record for wins against ACC teams with his 20th against a league opponent. He will have a chance to break that mark on Nov. 14 when Clemson plays host to Georgia Tech in Death Valley.
Saturday also marked Boyd’s 36th consecutive start, one short of the Clemson record for a quarterback. When Clemson faces Georgia Tech he will tie Charlie Whitehurst’s record of 37 in a row set from 2002-05.
Boyd had 377 passing yards, marking his 16th career 300-yard passing game. He is second in ACC history with 16. Only Philip Rivers of NC State has more with 18 from 2000-03.
Speaking of records. Watkins became the third player in Clemson history to go over 200 receptions in a career. He caught his 200th on a 33-yard touchdown reception from Tajh Boyd on Clemson’s first drive of the game. Aaron Kelly had 232 from 2005-08 and DeAndre Hopkins had 206 from 2010-12.
Watkins finished with eight catches for 169 yards on the day and two touchdowns. He now needs just 111 receiving yards to break DeAndre Hopkins career record.
Watkins now has six 100-yard yard receiving games this year and 13 for his career, an all-time Clemson record. The previous record was 12, which was owned by Hopkins.