CLEMSON -- Sammy Watkins didn't ask his shield of blockers for much Saturday night -- just a sliver of space.

"I told them, 'Boys, just block one time and give me a crease,' " said Watkins of his plea prior to returning a kick 89 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of Clemson's 56-45 win at Maryland.

Clemson is ranked seventh in the initial BCS standings released Sunday, thanks in large part to a breakout special teams performance at Maryland.

Clemson improved to 20th in the nation in kickoff return average (24.8 yards per return) after Watkins returned six kicks for 207 yards. Clemson (7-0, 4-0 ACC) will attempt to continue stellar special teams play when it hosts North Carolina (5-2, 1-2) at noon Saturday (ESPN).

"The big difference in the game was our special teams; our kick return was outstanding," Swinney said. "We had a breakout game. The guys did a good job blocking and Sammy was just tremendous."

Clemson, which remains No. 8 in The Associated Press and coaches Top 25 polls, is undefeated this deep into the season for first time since 2000 despite having yet put a complete effort together.

Clemson received effective play Saturday in two of the game's three phases -- offense and special teams -- to overcome what Swinney called the defense's "worst game of the year."

He made producing more explosive plays in the kick return game through new blocking schemes a point of emphasis in practice last week and his timing was impeccable as Clemson needed Watkins' touchdown return, and a 70-yard Watkins return setting up another score, to hold off Maryland.

Watkins has the talent to impact the special teams play the way C.J. Spiller did for Clemson in 2009, though Watkins also fumbled on a punt return.

Watkins made a clean sweep of awards Sunday, being named the national player of the week, national rookie of the week and ACC player of the week by Rivals.com after setting the program's single-game total yardage mark with 345 yards against Maryland -- eclipsing Spiller's 312-yard performance against Florida State in 2009.

Watkins ranks fourth in the nation total yards (1,205 yards) and eighth in the nation in receiving yards (728).

Extra points

Clemson is ranked in the top 10 in the BCS standings for the second time in program history. It also ranked seventh in the BCS standings on Oct. 23, 2000 … Maryland QB C.J. Brown picked up 80 rushing yards on seven scrambles as Swinney said Clemson linemen failed to stay in their rush lanes … He said the team didn't sustain any significant injuries at Maryland.

Next Game

Who: North Carolina (5-2, 1-2 ACC) at No. 8 Clemson (7-0, 4-0)

When: Saturday, noon

Where: Memorial Stadium

TV: ESPN