Sammy Watkins is ready to run the football, giving opposing defenders something else to worry about with Clemson’s star receiver.
Watkins had a 58-yard touchdown run in the 11th-ranked Tigers’ 41-7 victory against Furman on Saturday. It was Watkins’ first rushing touchdown and came three touches into his sophomore debut.
“It was like he just shot out of a cannon,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “It was a thing of beauty.”
Prepare for more beautiful plays involving Watkins now that he’s back from a two-game suspension for an offseason drug arrest.
“I didn’t run the ball a lot last year, but they’re going to put me in the running game a lot this year, out of the backfield,” Watkins said.
Watkins finished with four catches for 52 yards and 119 all-purpose yards as Clemson won its 30th consecutive game against the Paladins. Tajh Boyd threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns and Andre Ellington had a pair of rushing TDs for the second game in a row.
“It kind of felt like it was very easy, also, being a year in this offense,” Watkins said. “So I was very comfortable out there on the field.”
Swinney joked this week the Tigers had gained more than 500 yards of offense in both victories without Watkins and his star better not mess things up.
The Tigers came up just short of the mark this time with 498 yards against Furman.
Boyd’s three scoring throws gave him 43 for his career, second all-time at Clemson and six behind the record held by Charlie Whitehurst.
Boyd said Watkins’ presence, even if he doesn’t touch the ball, opens things up for Clemson’s other playmakers. Tigers receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who caught four touchdown passes the first two games, was again the team leader with seven catches against the Paladins.
Furman opened 0-3 for the first time since 1979.
It didn’t take long for Watkins to make his mark. He had catches of 12 and 19 yards on Clemson’s first scoring drive, which ended on Ellington’s 10-yard run.
Watkins was dazzling the next time the Tigers had the ball, running along the offensive line and smoothly taking the handoff from Boyd. He burst through the right side of the line, then outraced defenders Marcus McMorris and Reggie Thomas to the end zone.
“It was great to see him back and get him going,” offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “And definitely, there’s a whole other level of explosion when you see him out there.”
The Tigers’ offense, though, had to work a bit harder with Watkins back for their instate rival — Furman’s a 35-mile drive northeast of Clemson — than when Watkins missed last week’s 52-27 victory against Ball State. In that one, Clemson scored touchdowns on five of its first six possessions and was up 45-10 at the half.
This time, Boyd and the first-teamers needed a third-quarter surge — and help from the defense — to put the game away.
Linebacker Quandon Christian’s interception deep in Furman territory led to Ellington’s second touchdown. Boyd was back at it a series later, finding a wide-open Brandon Ford on a 30-yard scoring pass and a 34-7 lead.
Boyd’s final touchdown came when he hit Martavis Bryant in triple coverage on a 39-yard pass.
A day that started with excitement over Watkins’ return, ended with plenty of questions about Clemson’s defense with No. 5 Florida State ahead next Saturday night.
There were many fans dressed in Watkins’ No. 2 Clemson jersey during pre-game tailgates and Watkins got a rousing ovation when he stepped off the bus for the traditional Tiger walk entrance into the locker room.
The Tigers bogged down after Watkins’ score, ending two second-quarter drives with Chandler Catanzaro field goals of 46 and 22 yards. Catanzaro had made 14 consecutive kicks, tying Obed Ariri’s school mark.
What was troubling, though, for a team that’s yet to live down a 70-33 Orange Bowl embarrassment to West Virginia was Furman’s success moving the ball on the defending ACC champions.
Paladins quarterback Reese Hannon drove 63 yards to the Clemson 5 on the opening series. Furman coach Bruce Fowler switched from a fourth down field goal attempt into a trick pass, but Will King overthrew fullback Tony Caldwell in the end zone and Rashard Hall intercepted to end the threat.
“They’re obviously a good football team and you could see the problems we had stopping them at times,” Furman’s Fowler said. “To say that would’ve made a difference? I don’t know.”
Furman lost another scoring chance with a bad snap on Ray Early’s 42-yard field goal attempt as Clemson smothered the ball.
The Paladins finally broke through with Hannon’s 37-yard touchdown pass to Jason Snellings to cut the lead to 17-7. Jerodis Williams also had a 39-yard run right before to set up the scoring play.
Hannon was 19 of 29 for 235 yards in his first collegiate start. Furman finished with 352 yards and left Clemson coordinator Brent Venables with a lot to worry about heading into Florida State, a 52-0 winner against Wake Forest earlier Saturday.
“They’ll break the scoreboard next week if we don’t play better,” Venables said.