WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Maybe Sammy Watkins should be late more often.
Clemson’s star sophomore wide receiver struggled through the first half of the 2012 season, but showed signs of a breakout last week against Virginia Tech, catching eight passes for 84 yards.
His bust-out night, however, was heralded by a slight punishment.
After being late for a team meeting, Watkins took his frustrations out on Wake Forest’s defense. He finished with eight catches for 202 yards and a touchdown, setting Clemson’s single-game receiving yards record, breaking the mark of 197 set last month by teammate DeAndre Hopkins.
He exactly doubled his season receiving yardage: entering Thursday, he had 202 yards on 24 receptions spread over four games.
“That’s what we’ve been missing in this offense,” Watkins said. “We’ve been running the ball and having short passes. We actually opened up the ball and went deep this week. (Tajh Boyd) just played, threw the ball perfectly like he did in practice all week. We executed and played within the system.”
It was Watkins’ first receiving score of the season, and his first 100-yard receiving game since Oct. 22, 2011 against North Carolina.
Watkins was back to return the opening kickoff (a touchback out of the back of the end zone) but sat out the first three offensive plays as punishment for arriving three minutes late to a team meeting Tuesday.
He made his presence known very quickly, catching a season-long 57-yard pass from Boyd down the left sideline that set up Clemson’s first touchdown. On the first play of the second quarter, Watkins finally got his first receiving touchdown of 2012. He took a short sideline pass from Boyd and eluded a pair of defenders, sprinting 61 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown and 14-0 lead.
“Coach ( Chad Morris) called the offense aggressive this week and we played the offense aggressive,” Watkins said. “We came out and executed all the plays that he called.”
Watkins sat out the first two games of the season serving a suspension connected to a May drug arrest. He missed the Boston College game with a serious abdominal issue and dehydration connected to kidney function.
“It was good to see him back at full speed,” Boyd said. “At full effect he can help us out a lot this season. “Keep working him in there, do what he does and he can be special.”
Cornered: With starting corners Darius Robinson and Bashaud Breeland sidelined by injuries Thursday – Robinson for the rest of the regular season with a fractured left ankle – Clemson’s secondary was paper-thin. Sophomore Garry Peters and versatile senior Xavier Brewer started, with freshman Cortez Davis seeing significant action for the first time this season. Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price tested the secondary deep early, but had little sustained success.
He finished with 232 yards on 27-of-44 attempts with two touchdowns, but his longest pass was 27 yards. He was sacked five times.
Peters didn’t play in the second half with a back injury, but coach Dabo Swinney said he could have returned. Sophomore wide receiver Adam Humphries played both offense and defense, catching a pass for four yards and playing cornerback in the fourth quarter, making two tackles in the final 10 snaps.
“I’m really proud of the way Cortez Davis played,” Swinney said. “Here’s a guy who hasn’t had a lot of reps in practice and hadn’t had a lot of game time. He’s had to mentally get ready and get his snaps when he can in practice. I thought he stepped up and did good things and got a (fumble forced) for us. Just a lot of good things.”
Ellington, Hopkins move up: Andre Ellington and DeAndre Hopkins climbed on Clemson’s career rushing and receiving lists, respectively, early on Thursday. Ellington’s 61 moved past Travis Zachery into fourth place on the Tigers’ all-time rushing list; Zachery had 3,058 yards from 1998-2001. Hopkins moved past Rod Gardner for fourth on the all-time receiving yards list; Gardner piled up 2,498 yards from 1997-2000.
He already holds the Clemson career record for 100-yard receiving games and is second in receptions. He now had 182; Aaron Kelly, who finished his CU career as the ACC’s all-time receptions leader, has 232. Hopkins needs one more touchdown to tie Kelly atop Clemson’s all-time receiving touchdown list with 20. Thursday was his fifth straight game with a touchdown, tying the school mark set by Kelly and Derrick Hamilton.
Boyd is second on CU’s all-time passing yards list with 6,493 He broke Charlie Whitehurst’s single-game record of 420 yards, but is still well behind Whitehurst on the all-time list: Whitehurst piled up 9,665 yards from 2002-05.
Clemson is one of three FBS schools with a returning 3,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and 1,000-yard receiver; Southern California and Fresno State are the other two.
Red zoned: Clemson began the night as the nation’s top red zone team, scoring touchdowns on 67.9 percent of its trips. Wake Forest was one of the nation’s worst defensive red zone teams, allowing opponents to score 69.7 percent of the time. The first half did little to change perceptions: Clemson scored touchdowns on all four of its red-zone trips.
Think pink: October is national breast cancer awareness month, and Clemson did its part to raise awareness Thursday night. Many players wore pink gloves, and the Tigers had hot-pink towels on their sideline as well. Wake Forest volleyball coach Heather Kahl Holmes, a 1996 Clemson graduate who is battling breast cancer herself, opened the traditional “gate” for Wake players to run through before the game, and rode onto the field on an oversized motorcycle with the Demon Deacon mascot driving.