Sammy Watkins looked ready.
The Clemson defense was another story.
In his season debut, Watkins scored on his third touch from scrimmage and 11th-ranked Clemson settled down after an uneven start defensively to beat Furman 41-7 and set the stage for a trip to Florida State for a game with national implications.
In limited exposure Saturday, it was vintage Watkins. He scored the first time he touched the ball last season, when he became the fourth player to be named AP All-America as a freshman.
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“They wanted to get the ball to me early, a couple of quick touches and get me back into game speed,” Watkins said. Disciplined for his arrest in May for possession of marijuana and a controlled substance, Watkins said he was a tad rusty after watching the Auburn game on TV and last week’s win against Ball State from the sideline.
“It made me come back hungry,” he said. “I wasn’t moving as fast as I was last year because it was the first game. I’m pretty sure at Florida State I’ll be moving pretty quick.”
Quarterback Tajh Boyd completed 20 of 29 passes for 310 yards and two touchdowns. DeAndre Hopkins caught seven passes for 95 yards. Running back Andre Ellington rushed for 59 yards and two touchdowns. But the 81,500 in Death Valley, the largest crowd for an FCS opponent, were there to see Watkins. His day consisted of four catches for 52 yards, a 9-yard kickoff return and a 58-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second quarter. It was the first rushing TD of his career.
“With what he did today coming out there, just the presence he brings, everybody’s confidence picks up when Sammy’s on the field,” offensive coordinator Chad Morris said.
Lingering issues from the first two games troubled defensive coordinator Brent Venables, particularly in the first half when winless Furman milked the clock for 20 minutes and 235 yards. Furman played a first-quarter scoring opportunity with its first possession into a turnover. Trailing 17-0 in the second quarter, the Paladins drove 84 yards in three plays, including a 39-yard run by Jerodis Williams and a 37-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Snellings from first-time starter Reese Hannon.
“First half made me want to throw up,” said Venables, “Some of the same issues.
“You can’t give up those chunk yards and expect to be a great defense.”
Furman finished with 352 yards and converted two of 14 third downs, and Clemson intercepted two passes that led to touchdowns. Venables said it was better, just not good enough.
“It’s hard to beat anybody when you’re opening doors to the end zone for them like that,” he said. “I know we’ve got a lot of work to do.
“When you’re a little bit off, for whatever reason, you’ll get exposed. Anybody you play will do it to you. They’ll break the scoreboard next week if we don’t play better and more consistent.”
Clemson scored easily in its first three possessions and four of its first five to lead 20-7 at the half. Morris hoped for more production from the run game, but a first-half injury to right guard Tyler Shatley reduced Clemson to playing with three backups in an already inexperienced offensive line. David Beasley injured a knee in the Ball State game and did not play and right tackle Giff Timothy played sparingly as he recovers from a knee injury lingering from the Auburn game.
Neither the injuries nor the occasional gaffe troubled Boyd.
“I f we play our game and do what we’re capable of doing, I feel we can win this game,” he said, acknowledging that Florida State has allowed only a field goal in three games.
“I feel like we’ve got one of the most explosive offensives in the country, and it’s going to be a test.”
At 3-0, Clemson sits “right where we want to be,”coach Dabo Swinney said, adding that, it will be nice to have Watkins along for the ride to Tallahassee.
Other than a crowd of family and friends, Watkins said he did not anticipate anything special about playing in his home state.
“I’m going to treat it as I treat every game,” he said. “I might just practice a little harder.”