ATLANTA — Clemson might have another No. 1 caliber receiver to go along with Sammy Watkins.
DeAndre Hopkins must not have liked being labeled by some as a possession receiver. He must not have liked some questioning his speed either, because in the absence of star Watkins, Hopkins looked like a true No. 1 receiver Saturday.
Hopkins caught a Clemson single-game record 13 passes for 119 yards in the Tigers’ 26-19 victory over Auburn. Former Clemson star Airese Currie had 12 catches in a game in 2000.
Clemson coaches raved about Hoppkins’ improved strength and explosiveness this offseason, and Hopkins looked like a much more dynamic receiver, especially in his leaping effort to snag the go-ahead TD pass Saturday night.
“Nuke Hopkins had a great game,” offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “We felt he would, especially if they gave a lot of man coverage.
“He had to have a good game. We knew with Sammy (Watkins) out, other guys had to step up.”
Watkins is serving a two-game suspension after his drug arrest during the summer.
Morris praised the young offensive line after the Tigers finished with 528 total yards.
“That’s a group we have challenged about being physical,” Morris said. “We felt like we were too soft. We challenged those guys. … It was time for them to step up. I’m extremely proud of our offensive line.”
Still, quarterback Tajh Boyd is in need of more help from the line if Clemson is going to contend for another ACC title, and if he is to stay healthy throughout the season.
Boyd was sacked four times in the first half of Saturday night’s game. Auburn star pass rusher Corey Lemonier had two sacks working against Clemson right tackle Gifford Timothy, who was making his first start and coming off knee surgery.
Purple Heart recipient and Army veteran Daniel Rodriguez played on Clemson’s kickoff team in the first half. He walked on the Clemson team this year after Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was forwarded Rodriguez’s recruiting video. Rodriguez served in both the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns.
Corey Crawford took most of the snaps at defensive end opposite Malliciah Goodman. Crawford had been competing with Vic Beasley for the position in training camp. Jonathan Willard took nearly all the snaps at weakside linebacker over Corico Wright.
Swinney said he had former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield speak to his team Friday. Holyfield told the team despite his titles, he was still defeated 11 times and had to bounce back from setbacks.
Want to know Morris’ political affiliation? You wouldn’t by the flash cards he used to signal in plays from the sideline Saturday. The cards featured images of both South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley and First Lady Michelle Obama.