Rising to the occasion, call it what Clemson freshman wide receiver Sammy Watkins does game-in, game-out against the opposition’s best.
Down in South Florida, West Virginia features another worthy opponent for the freshman phenom in junior receiver Tavon Austin, who ranks second nationally in all-purpose yards.
For Watkins, just add it to the list of challenges he’s faced this season.
With the nation abuzz on Watkins already mid-October, senior UNC wide receiver Dwight Jones came out firing pregame.
“I know I’m the best,” Jones said to North Carolina reporters. “He’s a freshman. He’s a speedster. I’m not knocking him or anything. He’s good, but I’ve been doing this for four years.”
On Gameday, Jones had two catches for 16 yards – Watkins, eight catches for 91 yards with a touchdown in the Tigers’ 59-38 romp over the Tar Heels.
The next showdown came in a battle for the Atlantic Division against Wake Forest, facing the ACC’s top receiver statistically, Chris Givens.
Watkins bested Givens in this matchup too, but his day was cut short spraining his shoulder in the third quarter – making two catches for 32 yards to Givens’ one reception for five yards.
But in the ACC Championship Game, the star freshman faced an equal in the all-purpose yard game – ACC Player of the Year running back David Wilson of Virginia Tech, who ranked fifth nationally (173.58 yards per game) in the category to Watkins’ fourth-place spot (174.55 yards per game).
Once again, Watkins shined, and his counterpart faltered – racking up 157 all-purpose yards and a touchdown to Wilson’s 46 yards without a score.
Let’s just say, Clemson would like the trend to continue in the Orange Bowl.
All-Purpose Duel: Clemson's Watkins v. WVU's Austin
|Categories||Sammy Watkins||Tavon Austin|
|All-Purpose Yards Per Game||173.1||191.2|
|Punt/Kick Return Yards||695||1089|
|Touches per game||11.3||12.7|
|Yards per touch||15.3||15.1|
The Mountaineers’ Austin delivers his punch most in the return game, but has had his big games receiving.
Watkins ranks fourth nationally in all-purpose yards per game (173.1), while as referenced above, Austin falls second in the nation with 191.2 yards per game.
Austin has had five games of 100-plus kickoff return yards with two touchdowns and three of 50 or more punt return yards.
Watkins has only fielded two punts all season, but he did post four games of 100-plus kickoff return yards with a touchdown.
Where Watkins has the edge is in impact-receiving games – five 100-plus receiving yard and three multiple-touchdown games.
Austin had four 100-plus receiving yard and one multiple-touchdown game, including a season-high 187 yards against No. 1 LSU in Morgantown back in September.
There’s no doubt their teams try to get the ball in their playmakers’ hands, as Austin averages 12.7 touches per game to Watkins’ 11.3, and Clemson’s star freshman is doing a bit more per touch – 15.3 yards per to Austin’s 15.1.
What could make the difference in the game is the impact on scoring, while Austin is racking up the yards, he’s only found the endzone seven times. Watkins has scored 12 times (11 touchdown receptions and one kickoff return).