By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
The 2013 football season will go down as one of the best seasons in Clemson history. The Tigers opened the season with a thrilling 38-35 victory over a fifth-ranked Georgia and then capped it off with a come-from-behind, 40-35, victory over No. 7 Ohio State in the Orange Bowl.
In between there were a lot of good wins and a lot of great plays as the Tigers capped a second straight 11-win season and finished No. 7 in the final USA Today Coaches Poll.
The Clemson Insider.com takes a look back at some of the best plays of 2013 that led to one of the greatest football seasons in Clemson’s storied history.
- Watkins breaks Ohio State’s heart: Trailing 29-20 late in the third quarter of the Orange Bowl, Clemson was given a gift when Ohio State’s Philly Brown muffed a Bradley Pinion punt at his own 37-yard line. Clemson safety Robert Smith fell on the ball and the Tigers were in business at the OSU 33 with 3:36 left in the quarter. On third down-and-seven from the 30, quarterback Tajh Boyd bootlegged to his right and threw the ball deep downfield to wide receiver Sammy Watkins who was in one-on-one coverage with Ohio State’s Doran Grant. Grant never had a chance as Watkins pinpointed the ball at his highest point, snagging it from the air and falling down in the end zone. Watkins finished the night with a school and Orange Bowl record 16 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns.
- Seckinger dives for the win: Clinging to a three-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, Clemson found itself sitting at the Georgia nine-yard line and facing third-and-goal. Boyd, who had already ran for two scores and threw two others, found tight end Stanton Seckinger in the flats around the five. The Clemson sophomore tight-roped down the far sideline and then stretch out for the pylon for what looked like a touchdown. However, the sideline official ruled Seckinger stepped out of bounds at the two. But replay showed Seckinger did not step out of bounds and the ruling on the field was overturned and Clemson took a 38-28 lead with 7:40 to play in the game. Seckinger ended the season the same way he began it as he caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Boyd—a five-yard pass—in the Orange Bowl to beat Ohio State.
- Defense saves the day against BC: In the first half the Clemson defense kept the Tigers in the game. In the fourth quarter they won it. Leading 17-14 following a Boyd 6-yard touchdown with 13:44 to go, the defense which had five sacks and held Boston College’s strong running game to 94 yards on 39 carries—including only 70 for the nation’s leading rusher Andre Williams— made the play that clinched the game. On third-and-eight from his own 27, BC quarterback Chase Rettig rolled left and tried to keep the play alive, but reserve linebacker Tony Steward kept giving chase and eventually surprised Rettig, hitting him for a 14-yard loss, while popping the ball out of his hands at the same time. Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley picked up the loose ball and rumbled into the end zone from 13 yards out to seal the victory.
- Watkins burns Virginia: The game was not in the balance or anything like that. In fact it was already over. Leading 35-7 and faced with third-and-15 from its own three-yard line, Boyd dropped back to pass and lofted a deep ball down the sideline to Watkins, who ran under the ball around the Virginia 45 and then outran everyone to the end zone. The play was the longest pass play of Boyd’s career and the longest reception of Watkins’ career. It was also the second longest play from scrimmage in Clemson history.
- Welcome back Sammy. By his own admission, 2012 was a disappointing season for Sammy Watkins. He vowed throughout the entire off-season that he was going to get stronger, faster and become a better football player. It did not take too long for him to prove all his hard work was going to pay off. With the game tied 7-7 midway through the first quarter, following a 75-yard touchdown run by Georgia’s Todd Gurley, Clemson quickly answered with a quick strike of its own. On the first play from scrimmage on the ensuing drive, Boyd hit Watkins with a slant pass around the 45; Watkins made one move and then ran over a Georgia safety on his way to a 77-yard touchdown.
- Just go deep. After catching a first-quarter pass at the one-yard line to set up a Zac Brooks’ one-yard score, Watkins missed the next two and a half quarters with a leg injury in the Tigers’ 49-14 win over Syracuse. The Orange was trying to creep back into the game after falling behind 21-0 and 35-7 at halftime. With the score 35-14, they had Clemson pinned deep in its own territory at the nine. But on second down, Watkins made his return and boy was it a return. Boyd sent him deep on a flag route and then tossed the ball out in front of him. When he saw the ball racing out in front, Watkins hit another gear and ran underneath the football around the 50 and then jogged into the end zone for the touchdown that put the nail in Syracuse’s hopes for a dramatic comeback.
- ‘Boyd’ can he run. Just a few days prior to the Orange Bowl, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was answering questions about Buckeyes’ quarterback Braxton Miller and his running ability in comparison to Boyd’s ability to run the ball. In a nice way, Swinney let it be known that Boyd could not run like Miller. And though that might be the case, Boyd sure did do a great Miller impression when he bolted up the middle on a third-and-one play on the Tigers’ opening drive of the game. Led by right guard Tyler Shatley, who was pulling on the play, Boyd squeezed through the line and raced 49 yards untouched to the house. It was the longest run of Boyd’s career and set the tone for what kind of game the 80th Orange Bowl Classic was going to be.
- It’s Bryant’s turn. Martavis Bryant led the ACC and set a Clemson record for yards per reception, but he had yet to score a touchdown on a bomb like his counterpart, Sammy Watkins, had done on the other side several times in 2013. That all changed against Georgia Tech on Nov. 14. With the Tigers in front, 20-7, Boyd found Bryant streaking down the near sideline for a 76-yard touchdown, the longest of Bryant’s career. Bryant also had a 47-yard catch in the game to set up another score and finished the night with five catches for a career-high 176 yards. In his three-year career Bryant averaged 22.5 yards per catch, the best in Clemson history, breaking Joe Blalock’s record of 20.3 which had stood since 1941.
- Anthony seals the deal. After Boyd threw the worst pass of his career to give Ohio State the football at the Clemson 48-yard line with 1:27 to play and trailing by five points, linebacker Stephone Anthony saved the day a few plays later. On second down-and-10, Miller tried to throw a post to wide receiver Philly Brown, who was open across the Miller. But what Miller did not see was Anthony, who had dropped deep into coverage and was sitting between Miller and Brown. The Clemson linebacker jumped up and snagged the pass before hitting the ground, sending the Clemson bench into celebration mode and sealing the Tigers’, 40-35, victory. Anthony finished the season with 131 total tackles, including 75 that were first hits. It was the most tackles by a Clemson player in 10 years, or since Leroy Hill had 145 in 2003. He also ranked second on the team in tackles for loss with 13.5 and also added four sacks and an interception.
- Best catch of the year? The box score will only show Bryant’s third-quarter touchdown catch as a three-yard reception, but it was so much more than that. As he was going up to catch Boyd’s fade pass to the left corner end zone, Ohio State’s Armani Reeves was draped all over the 6-foot-5, 200-pound wide receiver and was flagged for pass interference. But that did no matter because Bryant tipped the ball in the air and then made a one-handed catch while falling out of the end zone. On his way down, he still managed to get not only his first foot in, but he dragged his second foot as well, showing he clearly had possession of the football and got both feet inbounds. The catch gave the Tigers a 34-29 lead with 0:32 left in the third quarter.