CLEMSON — Sophomore defensive tackle Carlos Watkins was “very, very fortunate” to escape serious injury as the passenger in a fatal car accident Saturday.
The Tigers had the weekend off following a Thursday night victory at North Carolina State in Raleigh. Watkins is a reserve on the defensive line, who has five tackles (1½ for a loss) in three games this season for No. 3-ranked Clemson.
A 21-year-old, Dache Gossett, died at the scene of a single-vehicle wreck outside Forest City, N.C. Saturday night, upon being ejected from the Dodge Durango, which hydroplaned and struck a power pole in heavy rain. Gossett was not wearing a seatbelt.
On Sunday morning, WLOS-TV in Asheville reported via a North Carolina Highway Patrol sergeant that a broken leg was feared for Watkins, who was riding in the front passenger seat.
But head coach Dabo Swinney, after speaking with Watkins (who is from nearby Moore, N.C.), told reporters Sunday evening Watkins has no serious injuries, and is expected back in Clemson on Monday.
“Very fortunate that Carlos Watkins is okay,” Swinney said. “Very serious car wreck last night, and a very scary situation for him. Hopefully he’ll be back here tomorrow, and we’ll put our arms around him and help him get through this deal.”
The 19-year-old driver, Tajae McMullens, was not injured, according to the WLOS report. He may face charges when authorities meet Tuesday, but police believe drugs, alcohol and speed were not factors in the accident.
According to police, Watkins was trapped inside the vehicle for more than an hour, and spent the night in Mission Hospital in Asheville. Swinney said Watkins’ chest was compressed before he could be removed.
One blog has already insisted Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is already out of the Heisman Trophy race due to his lackluster first half against the Wolfpack.
Boyd was off-target early, but ended up throwing three touchdowns.
“Tajh Boyd, there was a certain point in the game where he just turned it on and played great down the stretch,” Swinney said.
But as far as the weakened first half, when Clemson led 13-7 with few style points, “it wasn’t just Tajh; it was kind of a comedy of errors,” Swinney said. “We had mistakes at critical times by all positions. It was on probably the simplest things that we do.
“We know we’re much, much more capable than that … we did not play our best offensively by any stretch of the imagination. But that’s football. I don’t have any doubt at all that when it’s all said and done, this will be one of the best offenses that’s played here at Clemson.”
Freshman left tackle Isaiah Battle will pay dearly for his haymaker he threw and connected on an N.C. State defender in the fourth quarter.
“Total embarrassment to this program. That can’t ever happen here at Clemson,” Swinney said. “A poor, poor decision and a classless act on his part.”
Swinney said Battle was not defiant when admonished by the coaches: “He was immediately remorseful and felt bad about the situation.”
Battle will be suspended for Saturday’s game, and disciplined in all five of this week’s practices leading up to the Wake Forest game.
“He’ll learn and grow from it — I think he already has — but certainly not something that will ever be tolerated,” Swinney said.
Right tackle Gifford Timothy only played the first possession in each half against the Wolfpack, and Swinney said trainer Danny Poole discovered symptoms of a concussion Friday.
“We don’t really know when,” Swinney said. “I thought he was just having a bad night, but he didn’t really come clean.”
Timothy’s status for Saturday is questionable. Shaq Anthony would be in line to start, especially because Battle will not be available.
Backup linebacker Kellen Jones is out for the year with a lower-leg injury. Because Jones has already taken a year off in 2012 while transferring from Oklahoma, Swinney doesn’t know if he’ll be eligible for a medical redshirt.
Honored for their performances Thursday were right guard Tyler Shatley (the bright point of a bad offensive line night), defensive end Vic Beasley (three sacks) and kicker Chandler Catanzaro, who became Clemson’s all-time leading scorer with three extra points and field goals of 49 and 45 yards.
“His ability to put it between the pipes in critical situations,” Swinney said of Catanzaro, “is a real difference-maker for our team right now.”
Asked whether he thought N.C. State flanker Bryan Underwood was in or out of bounds on both his controversial runs Thursday upon watching tape, Swinney chuckled and gave the politically correct response.
“It really doesn’t matter,” Swinney said. “Who knows, maybe he missed it completely, maybe he was in. I’ve been on both sides of it. But certainly if he was in, that’s a very big break for us and a tough break for them; but it was completely inconclusive on tape.”