By Will Vandervort
How big is Saturday’s South Carolina game for Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins? Look at it this way, their performances have more riding on the line than their legacies.
Sure the Tigers’ two best players would love nothing more than to knock off their archrivals for the first time in their careers. It would secure Boyd’s place as one of Clemson’s greatest, if not the greatest, quarterback in school history.
“There is respect here in this whole deal and that is what we are trying to gain,” Boyd said.
If indeed it is his last game at Clemson, it will allow Watkins to go out knowing he helped put an end to a streak that no one at Clemson likes.
“I have to go out there and perform every game, and this is one of the biggest games of the year,” Watkins said. “This is for who rules South Carolina. It’s not only big for us, but for the Clemson fans and the coaches.
“The last four years they have beaten us and we have to go out there and make a statement. We have to go out there, have fun and play so we can go out with a win.”
Boyd and Watkins have been missing in action somewhat when they’ve played the ninth-ranked Gamecocks the last two years.
Boyd’s numbers against South Carolina have been well documented. In 2011, he completed only 11 of 29 passes for 83 yards, while being sacked five times. Last year, they were even worse. He completed 11 of 24 passes for 183 yards with two interceptions, and he was sacked six times.
Watkins numbers against USC have not been anything to write home about, either. Against one of the SEC’s best defenses, the junior wide receiver has caught a combined eight passes for 76 yards and no touchdowns.
Watkins enters the Carolina game with 78 catches for 1,144 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was named a finalist for Biletnikoff Award earlier this week, which is given to the nation’s best wide receiver.
Early projections for next April’s NFL Draft have Watkins going in the top 10 or 15 picks. Add a good performance against the Gamecocks to his already impressive resume and Watkins is sure to keep his top 10 status and may even improve upon it.
“This will be a good statement game for me to prove I can make some plays and be that dominant player,” he said. “I’m going to prepare the right way this week and hopefully I can go out there and make a lot of plays.”
Boyd probably will need to have an even better game against the Gamecocks than Watkins. He is considered to be a late first to possible second-round pick at this point by most of the draft experts out there. But to improve his stock, Boyd will need a big outing against South Carolina, plus a victory to improve perception.
The Clemson quarterback is 7-5 all-time against top 25-competition, including a 3-2 record against top 10 teams. Despite those pretty decent numbers against top tier teams there is a perception that Boyd does not perform well in big games.
It did not help that he had a bad outing against Florida State last month nor the fact he is 0-2 and has not played well against the Gamecocks.
“This is a big game,” Boyd said. “But there have been big games that have led up to this.”
Leading up to this game, no quarterback in the country has played better than the Hampton, Va. native. In the month of November, Boyd has completed 65 of 83 passes for 1,005 yards with 12 touchdowns and only two interceptions. That computes to a 221.9 passing efficiency rating, the best in the nation.
“I’m just going out there and playing and not worrying about other factors,” he said. “I’m just going out there and doing my job and trying to be in the moment on every play. When you start to worry about things you can’t control like other people’s jobs and what is happening over here and over there, I think that is where I have become complete as a player and we have become complete as a team.”
Now they just have to do it against the Gamecocks.