CLEMSON — He was perhaps the only Clemson player who was not looking ahead to Florida State next week. Perhaps the only person among the 81,500 in the building for No. 11 Clemson’s 41-7 win over Furman who was not looking forward to the key divisional game next week in Tallahassee, Fla., was receiver Sammy Watkins.
On Saturday, Watkins was eager to just get back on the field after serving a two-game suspension for his May arrest on drug charges.
Watkins watched the Auburn game with Jeff Scott’s wife at the receiver coach’s home in Clemson, witnessing a narrow victory that undoubtedly would have been made a more comfortable margin with his presence.
“It hurt me when I saw things on the field I could have done better or told coach about,” Watkins said.
Watkins was reduced to a cheerleader role on the sidelines during the home opener against Ball State as he watched teammate DeAndre Hopkins further his statistical head start over him. Hopkins added 95 more receiving yards Saturday.
So as the team boarded the buses and drove around Memorial Stadium for the run down the hill into the east end zone Saturday, Watkins wasn’t thinking about Florida State, he was feeling nervous. But Watkins didn’t look nervous Saturday. He looked more like an All-American going untouched for a 58-yard touchdown run, the first rushing touchdown of his career, and catching four passes for 52 yards to help Clemson (3-0) to its 30th straight win over Furman (0-3).
“They were asking me what I wanted to run and I just said to keep it natural,” Watkins said. “Just let the game flow and let it come to me.”
As deep and talented as the Clemson receiving corps is, Watkins demonstrated there might not be another receiver in the country that possesses his acceleration, a rare burst that he combines with strength, agility, good hands and excellent long speed.
On the rushing touchdown he bolted around the right end of the line untouched. At the second level two Furman defensive backs had the angle on him, he simply broke the angle with his speed.
“It was like he was just shot out of a cannon,” Swinney said. “It was a thing of beauty. He is a special player and it doesn’t take long to find him on the field. He is electric.”
While Watkins was electric Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said the rest of his offensive was flat at times.
Clemson had several three-and-outs, Morris felt quarterback Tajh Boyd lost his edge on a series or two, and the offensive line was not as physical. Clemson had a season-low 68 plays.
Still, despite not playing with top focus, Clemson was two yards shy (498) of producing three straight games of 500 yards of total offense which would have been a school record.
While the offense was good enough without its best effort the Clemson defense again looked shaky. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said the effort was “sporadic” and the first half effort nearly compelled him to “throw up.”
But the one player who wasn’t sluggish, one of the players who had an edge, was Watkins.
“(The suspension) was a good lesson,” Watkins said. “It made me want to come back hungrier.”
He returned hungry on Saturday and as explosive as ever.