ACC Football: Virginia Tech must stop Watkins
Virginia Tech did a masterful job limiting Sammy Watkins, the almost unanimous choice as the Atlantic Coast Conference’s offensive rookie of the year, in its first meeting with Clemson.
He finished with three catches for 38 yards, one a 23-yarder.
The explosive freshman wide receiver has been slowed by a banged up shoulder in recent weeks, and cornerback Kyle Fuller said the No. 5 Hokies don’t plan to pay him any special attention on Saturday night, either, when the teams meet in the ACC championship game.
“He’s just like everybody else. We don’t look at him any differently,” Fuller said. “They have other athletic guys that we’re focusing on. We can’t just focus on one guy.”
They may want to rethink that before the opening kickoff, because even after establishing himself as a game-breaker, Watkins proved especially hard for some teams to contain.
“Sammy was definitely a guy that we knew would have to help us, but it wasn’t until we got him into camp that we realized just how special he was and that he had a chance to be a starter and a game-changer,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said this week. “And that’s what he’s been.”
In a 56-45 victory against Maryland, he had an 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, a 70-yard kickoff return to set up another one, touchdown receptions of 13 and 15 yards and finished with 345 yards of total offense and three touchdowns as the Tigers rallied from 18 points down.
Fuller said the Hokies didn’t shut Watkins down as much as take stuff away.
“It was more shutting down stuff they want to do with him,” he said.”
Watkins missed one game and was limited by the right shoulder problem last week in a loss to South Carolina, but he still finished the season with 72 catches for 1,073 yards. He ranked second in the league in receptions, receiving yards per game and touchdown catches with 10, and was fourth nationally in total offense per game with an average of better than 174 yards.
He did not return kicks last week against, but may resume that role on Saturday night.
“My shoulder’s in good condition,” he said Tuesday night. “I’ll be all right for the ACC championship game. I’ll just put everything on the line and go out and play.”
Watkins didn’t have many hiccups adjusting to the college game, but said the much-hyped matchup at sold out, raucous Lane Stadium on Oct. 1 qualified as one of them.
“I wasn’t prepared for the atmosphere and the cold weather,” he said.
But he took a no-nonsense approach to his award, saying his has bigger concerns this week.
“Yes, I’ve always been that way and that’s the way I feel now,” he said. “I’ve got a championship game to prepare for and a bowl game after that. I just want to go play.”
The Hokies held him down once. Doing it again might prove critical the second time around.