CLEMSON, S.C.—If you really want to understand why Clemson’s offense can be so frightening to opposing defenses, look no further than the first quarter of the Tigers’ 49-14 blowout win at Syracuse.
On the Tigers’ third offensive play, a Syracuse safety and cornerback bit on play action in the backfield on an option fake.
Junior Adam Humphries was, in his words, “the most wide open I’ve ever been,” and grabbed Tajh Boyd’s right-sideline strike for a 60-yard touchdown.
Twenty seconds before the quarter’s end, Boyd and Humphries hooked up again. This time, Boyd found Humphries for a 42-yard strike down the right sideline. Humphries spun out of a tackle, tight-roped his feet along the white line and into the end zone for a 42-yard score and 21-0 Clemson lead. Humphries entered Syracuse with 120 receiving yards in the previous four games combined.
He ended the first quarter with 118 yards and two touchdowns on three receptions.
Entering Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. ET visit from Boston College (3-2, 1-1 ACC), Clemson has spread the ball out in impressive fashion. Through five games, 11 different players have scored receiving touchdowns for Clemson. Only two players (Watkins and fellow junior Martavis Bryant) have more than two, and both of those players have three.
Boyd knows his offense is best—and happiest—when everyone is involved.
“It’s like I stated earlier in my career, most of the time when everyone is happy, you have more guys touching the ball,” he said. “We have a lot of guys who are consistent and doing things right. My job as a quarterback is to be the coordinator and make sure everyone is touching the ball. We have guys who can do it. Wide receivers can catch, tight ends can catch. Everyone can run. I have to be able to distribute the ball.”
Humphries’ story is a perfect example of why Clemson’s receivers stay patient. Following junior Charone Peake’s season-ending ACL tear, Humphries was elevated to the starting lineup.
His first game as a starter was quiet, however. In Clemson’s 26-14 win over N.C. State, Humphries went catchless.
“After the N.C. State game, I saw (Boyd) in the hallway (and he said), 'Adam, I still love you man.' I knew that,” Humphries said. “We’re pretty close. We practice every day, I get some touches, Sammy gets a lot of touches. It’s how Sammy reacts out there and what he sees. If I don’t get a catch one game, it’s not entirely his fault. It’s how the game progresses."
The following week, offensive coordinator Chad Morris targeted him early, and he finished with five receptions for 67 yards.
It was only a warm-up for his breakout inside the Carrier Dome.
“On that first play, coming off the ball, I knew that folks would be on Sammy and Tajh,” Humphries said. “(Boyd) did the option fake and the corner and safety came down hard, and it was just a breeze walking into the end zone like that. It’s good to have them in the backfield like that.”
Watkins had an assist on Humphries’ second score, too.
“Sammy ran a bubble screen and the linebacker came down on that,” Humphries said. “Having him in the backfield, out wide, all the folks on him, it opens things up wide for me to get a lot of opportunities.”
Watkins got his later, too. Near the end of the third quarter, he broke past a cornerback and Boyd found him for a 91-yard touchdown, the second-longest play from scrimmage in Clemson history.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says the offense’s depth makes him “pretty comfortable” with how his team substitutes.
“I don’t pay attention much anymore,” he said. “Back in 2009, one guy had to be everywhere. When we had C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford on the field (both of whom are now in the NFL), I was very in tune with it. We weren’t going to win if they weren’t where we needed them to be.
“(The depth) makes us difficult to handle. Guys are unselfish and make plays. Tajh has confidence in them. It’s experience mixed with youth.”
When Peake went down during the open date between South Carolina State and N.C. State, it raised questions about Clemson’s wide receiver depth; the injury left six healthy scholarship receivers.
Since then, Bryant has caught 11 passes for 181 yards and three touchdowns. Freshman Germone Hopper has 10 catches for 51 yards, and fellow freshman Mike Williams has four catches for 74 yards. Coaches have acknowledged he’s pushing Bryant for playing time.
In addition, sophomore Stanton Seckinger has emerged as a reliable pass-catching tight end. Saturday, he had three catches for 48 yards and a touchdown at Syracuse.
“Nobody looks rattled. Nobody has big eyes,” Boyd said. “They’re playing at a high level.”
That bodes well for upcoming tests against Florida State and South Carolina, where high-caliber defenses will undoubtedly focus heavily on Watkins and his game-breaking abilities.
Swinney says he loves how his offense can use Watkins as a decoy, opening up other options.
“He’s as good a decoy as there is in the game,” Swinney said. “That’s one decoy they cover. We’ve used him in a couple of situations as the bait. He’s pretty good bait. They bite on that one. It allows us to be explosive and keep defenses guessing. Sammy doesn’t have to touch the ball to make big plays in the passing game.”
When you have numerous options and a Heisman Trophy candidate like Boyd to distribute the ball, life can be tough for opposing defenses.
“We have plenty of talented options,” Boyd said. “I feel comfortable throwing to a lot of guys.”
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes in this article were obtained directly by the author.
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