By Will Vandervort
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Slowly and very gingerly Sammy Watkins walked over to his locker inside Sun Life Stadium early Saturday morning. With each step he grimaced a little more, especially as he tried to pull off his shirt so one of the team trainers could take a look.
“I think it’s my ribs,” Watkins said to the trainer. “They’re sore.”
Probably everything was sore on Watkins from head to toe, and understandably so. Playing in front of his hometown friends and family the Fort Meyers, Fla., native left it all out on the field in the 2014 Discover Orange Bowl as he caught the ball, ran with the ball, returned kicks and even threw a pass in leading No. 12 Clemson to a 40-35 victory over seventh-ranked Ohio State.
By the end of the game, Watkins could barely move as he tweaked his knee and eventually his ribs on the last play he was in. He says the ribs are fine, but when his cleat got stuck in the turf near the end of the third quarter he thought he might have hurt his knee.
“The cornerback went inside and then shot back out,” Watkins said. “(Roderick McDowell) did not even get the ball, but I don’t know that so my cleat got stuck and I just basically fell. I thought I almost tore it, but I’m definitely fine.”
Going to the sideline was the only thing that really slowed Watkins down in the Orange Bowl. Ohio State had no answer for the Tigers’ superstar wideout. He hauled in a school and Orange Bowl record 16 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns on his way to being named the Orange Bowl’s Most Valuable Player.
“They do a good job with him,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said. “Whenever you have a guy that has that much vertical speed, it creates a cushion and then you just keep flipping those bubbles to him, that’s tough to defend.
“Obviously, we did not do a good job, but I don’t want to take anything away from him. I don’t know all the receivers in the country, but I can’t imagine any better than that guy.”
That guy burned freshman defensive back Von Bell, who was playing for the injured Bradley Roby, and when Bell did not get any safety help over the top. Watkins blew past the freshman and easily caught the ball for a 34-yard touchdown.
In the third quarter, Watkins made a spectacular catch over corner Doran Grant when he hauled in a third-down pass from Boyd that pulled the Tigers within two points, 29-27, with 2:47 to play.
“He is a great player,” Bell said. “Much respect to the Clemson Tigers. They schemed us up on that play.”
Besides breaking the Orange Bowl records, Watkins also tied the Clemson record for touchdown receptions in a career, thanks to the two that he got he finishes with 27, the same amount DeAndre Hopkins had between 2010-‘12.
Watkins also set the Clemson single-season and career reception marks with his performance in the Orange Bowl. He finished the season with 101 catches, 13 more than Aaron Kelly had in 2007. He also finished with 240 receptions, eight more than Kelly had between 2005-‘08.
Watkins also set the Clemson single-season record for receiving yardage as he finished with 1,464 yards, breaking the record of 1,405 set by Hopkins last year.
“We knew coming into the game that we were going to put the ball into his hands as much as we could and let him go make plays,” Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said.
And that’s what he did, even when he was hurt.