CLEMSON — As DeAndre Hopkins returned to Clemson’s sideline after posting up a Ball State cornerback for his third touchdown of the first half Saturday, he was approached by Sammy Watkins.
“(Watkins told Hopkins), ‘You can’t score no more,’” junior quarterback Tajh Boyd said following the Tigers’ 52-27 win. “You’re running away from me right now.”
Watkins does have a significant deficit to make up atop Clemson’s receiver stats after two games: Hopkins has 19 receptions for 218 yards and four touchdowns.
Given the summer’s events, Clemson fans are just fine with that.
Following Watkins’ May drug arrest on drug charges, one of the summer’s biggest questions was how a prolific offense would respond to his absence (which turned into two games, thanks to the suspension Dabo Swinney handed down in early August).
The answer likely sent a shiver down the spine of every defensive coordinator in the ACC.
Two games into the season, the Tigers are averaging 527 yards of total offense and 39 points per game, the first time since 1980 they have opened the season with two consecutive games of 500-plus yards total offense.
Hopkins is, in offensive coordinator Chad Morris’ words, “one of the best receivers in the country, no doubt.”
Senior tailback Andre Ellington is fully healthy and a home-run hitter, capable of scoring on any play; his 68-yard how-did-he-keep-his-balance run against Auburn is one of the top plays of the young season.
And Boyd has left 2011’s late-season struggles behind as a coolly efficient veteran; Saturday he was 19-of-23 for 229 yards and three touchdowns, all in a half’s work.
This week, Watkins returns.
“It’s going to get ugly out there,” Boyd said. “It’s so explosive as it is.”
Boyd’s biggest problem? Distribution.
Consider this: three receivers (Hopkins and sophomore receivers Charone Peake and Adam Humphries) had at least six catches Saturday. And that doesn’t even take into account steady senior wideout Jaron Brown or solid senior tight end Brandon Ford, who recovered from a drop-filled opener for three catches.
It is an embarrassment of riches, a problem Boyd is more than willing to handle.
“It’s going to be tough for defenses, but for us it’s not about execution,” he said. “ I’m not forcing the ball to any particular player. We’re not shying away from what we do as an offense. The situation for me when I get a player like Sammy back is how much do I distribute the ball, how much do I focus on my keys and what I’ve been taught?”
It is a much bigger problem for defenses.
Do you focus on Watkins on one side? Hopkins on the other? Or do you key to stop the run – which is exactly what Morris wants you to do?
“Now with us getting our full arsenal back, getting Sammy back, it should create a lot more opportunities for both (he and Hopkins) and those guys in the middle,” Morris said.
Entering the season, an untested offensive line which returned only two starters was a major liability.
It has been a pleasant surprise so far, allowing no sacks Saturday.
If the line can keep Boyd upright against strong ACC defenses – like Florida State’s vaunted defensive line – he’ll have no shortage of targets to choose from.
Clemson now shoots off fireworks following every score in Memorial Stadium.
Hope the gameday management team bought in bulk.