Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd turned in an impressive performance against Ohio State in the Tigers' 40-35 Orange Bowl victory, throwing for 378 yards and five touchdowns. However, it was his go-to receiver, Sammy Watkins, who stole the show and reminded the nation why he is one of the best wide receivers in the game.
Watkins has put up big numbers for the bulk of 2013, there's a reason the junior was a Biletnikoff Award finalist in December. He entered the game with 85 catches, 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season. Then, in the Orange Bowl, things came together for Watkins against a depleted and hapless Ohio State secondary.
Clemson's star receiver posted 16 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns on the way to breaking and then setting a new Orange Bowl receiving record.
Watkins' effort was tremendous against the Buckeyes, but there were some who doubted him after lackluster performances in the Tigers' two losses this season. He totaled 15 catches for 161 yards and just a single touchdown in those games. But on Friday—playing in the Orange Bowl and on the big stage—he got a chance to put any worries about him to bed, and did just that.
Yet for Watkins and his Clemson teammates, this game was about more than just capping off the 2013 campaign. In the Orange Bowl following the 2011 season, Clemson was boat-raced by West Virginia, 70-33, with Watkins posting five catches to the tune of 66 yards and one touchdown. Against Ohio State, the junior redeemed himself for the shortcomings of his freshman bowl appearance.
As expected, the speedy Watkins showed that there are few better than him when it comes to getting vertical down the field and taking the top off the defense. No. 2 can fly, and he showed that against a the Ohio State defense.
In addition to the speed, Watkins' steady diet of bubble screens allowed him to display the shifty, stop-and-start quality that makes him so dangerous in the open field. Watkins also showed an ability that he rarely is forced to display: he's capable of making tough catches in traffic. Ordinarily, Watkins blows the top off the defense and is so open, he makes clean catches without worry. Here, against Ohio State, he shows he too can climb the ladder and make the clutch grab.
Watkins is still working on becoming a complete receiver. His success in the Orange Bowl—and at Clemson in general—came from working out of the slot, using motion and being stacked with other receivers to help him avoid press coverage. At the next level, he'll have to prove that more physical coverage does not limit him from making plays. However, as it stands now, B/R's top draft analyst, Matt Miller, views Watkins as one of the top instant impact players in the 2014 draft.
The junior had a big game in his home state of Florida and his showing in the Orange Bowl served as a true reminder that he'll be a hot commodity at the next level. With Watkins expected to declare for the NFL Draft, the productive outing in Miami Gardens will not be lost upon scouts.
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