Watkins: Clemson WRs v. FSU secondary decides the game

Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins runs the ball past Florida State linebacker Vince Williams in the first quarter to set Clemson up for a touchdown in the first quarter.

Photo by Nathan Gray

Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins runs the ball past Florida State linebacker Vince Williams in the first quarter to set Clemson up for a touchdown in the first quarter.

CLEMSON – As a freshman, Sammy Watkins got his first taste of facing his home-state team, Florida State – and he went off.

Watkins posted a, at the time, career high 20.1 yards per catch with two touchdowns in just his fourth game in Death Valley.

Watkins ready for FSU challenge

FSU was ready for him on the return trip to Tallahassee last season, however, holding the Fort Myers product to a career-low four yards per grab. Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said his receiver corps was “embarrassed” in the 49-37 loss.

What sets the Seminoles apart? Press-man coverage, and a lot of it, which Watkins says they don’t see from anyone else on the schedule.

“That’s the hard part transitioning yourself for one team,” Watkins said. “You got to change some of the things you do…It’s really about who wants it the most and technique. I think I have improved in my technique and fundamentals and it’s going to be a great game.”

The Seminoles rank second nationally in pass defense (149 yards per game) – and they’ve done so on the back of limiting big plays.

FSU has allowed the least passes of 10-plus and 20-plus yards, while not surrendering a single reception of 60 yards. Clemson counters with one of the top chunk-yardage passing games in the nation – second only to Baylor with five completions of 60 or more yards.

Watkins puts the responsibility on himself to be a trailblazer for the big hits downfield Saturday.

“In this game, I have to make a lot of big plays – not just one,” he said. “I take pride in knowing that I have to be the one to make plays – be the one that Tajh (Boyd) looks for on third-and-10 or second-and-15. I accept the challenge from Lamarcus Joyner and the other cornerbacks and I can’t wait to play those guys.”

Joyner wouldn’t have had the one-on-one matchups much with Watkins in their first two meetings, but after racking up two All-ACC honors at safety, he’s playing corner now and ranks second on the Seminoles in tackles (25) and first in sacks (2). The senior had plenty to say about Watkins and Clemson at July’s ACC Kickoff.

“Yes, he’s Sammy Watkins,” Joyner told reporters. “That’s a name entitled to a man who straps on the pads like other the 10 guys that I have on my team starting with me. There’s no fear at Florida State.”

Watkins says they worked throughout the spring and fall on physicality and press coverage, and that’s going to pay off under the lights Saturday night.

“They’re going to press the whole game and we have to go out and make plays,” said Watkins. “At the end of the day, it’s the wide receivers against the secondary. We accept the challenge and we just have to work hard and go out there and play and have fun and I think we’re going to do that.”

Hammer and nails

Standing 6-2 229, Florida State running back James Wilder Jr. is an imposing force – and Clemson knows all about that.

Wilder Jr. had just nine carries in last year’s win, but with his team holding a one-score lead going into the fourth quarter, he provided just the spark that put the game away.

Third-and-three at the FSU 48, the junior took his carry up the middle, broke a string of attempted tackles and carried a group of Clemson defenders with him for a 35-yard gain. He received the rock two more times for what proved to be a game-clinching score.

Wilder Jr. has an apt description for how his playing style translates to the field.

“My role is just being the hammer,” Wilder Jr. said. “In their pass (rush) game, they have a lot of quick guys and a whole bunch of stunts. My job is to make sure nobody touches Jameis (Winston) in the passing game.

“Just to wear them down and to make them the nail in the run game and just keep pounding them down and wearing them out the whole game.”

Clemson, FSU Used to GameDay Spotlight

ESPN’s College GameDay hits TigerTown for a second trip in eight weeks, which is a first for the show. Setup on Bowman Field again, the Tigers host the festivities for the third time in school history.

GameDay was on hand for Clemson-FSU last season in Tallahassee, where analyst Lee Corso picked the Seminoles with a replica Seminole spear. He picked Georgia earlier this season.

FSU is 11-14 all-time and 6-7 on the road with the extra spotlight, while the Tigers’ 38-35 win over Bulldogs broke a run of four-straight losses with the crew in town (all four losses at road/neutral sites, 2-0 at home).

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