CLEMSON, SC (Clemson University) - Not that it was any secret, but it's become very clear lately that when Sammy Watkins touches the football, good things are bound to follow for Clemson.
Watkins had 129 receiving yards against Virginia on Saturday. And that was just his two touchdowns.
The junior playmaker hauled in scoring passes of 33 and 96 yards on Clemson's first possessions of both the first and second halves, respectively, as the Tigers rolled to a 59-10 win in their last trip to Scott Stadium until at least 2025.
For the day, Watkins finished with eight catches for 169 yards and two touchdowns.
"We always want to get the ball to No. 2," head coach Dabo Swinney said of Watkins. "There's no question it's a major emphasis every week for him to touch the football."
Senior quarterback Tajh Boyd, returning to his home state of Virginia, completed 24 of 29 passes for 377 yards and accounted for four touchdowns in the victory.
"It was a tremendous performance by that young man," Swinney said. "He played disciplined within the system tonight, and hopefully that's something he can continue to do down the stretch as we finish this thing up."
The Tigers led 14-7 late in the second quarter, when freshman safety Jayron Kearse created two turnovers - an interception and a forced fumble - on back-to-back Cavaliers possessions to help Clemson score three touchdowns in the final 4:18 of the first half and pull away.
"Jayron, I thought, was the real spark for us in the first half," Swinney said.
Coming off a school-record 14 receptions at Maryland a week ago, the Tigers wasted no time getting Watkins involved by going to him on the first play from scrimmage. He finished the opening drive with three catches for 46 yards and capped it off with a 33-yard touchdown from Boyd that made it 7-0 just 87 seconds into the game.
After the teams traded punts, Virginia put together a long march and found the end zone on a six-yard run by quarterback David Watford to make it 7-7.
Clemson responded in short order, however, going down the field courtesy of long catches by Roderick McDowell and Martavis Bryant, and pounding it into the end zone on a two-yard run by former walk-on C.J. Davidson. The touchdown made it 14-7 with 2:59 left in the first quarter.
At that point, Boyd was 9-for-9 passing for 135 yards and a touchdown. The passes to McDowell and Bryant went for 27 and 37 yards, respectively, on consecutive plays to set the Tigers up on the Virginia five-yard line.
The Clemson offense sputtered for much of the second quarter, but the defense - and namely Kearse - came up with big plays to help the Tigers add to their lead.
After Clemson turned the ball over on downs near midfield, Kearse nabbed his third interception of the season - tying him for the team lead - three plays later and returned it 37 yards to the Virginia 33.
"I saw the quarterback looking at the receiver - because our nickel back was kind of off him a little bit - and I think he saw him open, he just put it too far over his head and I was there to make the play," Kearse said.
The Tigers cashed the turnover in seven plays later, as Boyd hit McDowell for a 10-yard touchdown to make it 21-7 with 4:18 to go until halftime.
Kearse forced another Cavalier turnover on the ensuing possession, as he stripped Khalek Shepherd after a two-yard gain. DeShawn Williams recovered to set the Tigers up at midfield.
"I was just doing my job - just being in the A gap," Kearse said. "He bounced into my gap, and I was there to make a play."
On a third-and-one play moments later, McDowell took a handoff, juked a defender at the line of scrimmage and raced right up the gut for a 25-yard touchdown to make it 28-7 with 1:29 left in the first half.
The Tiger defense forced a quick three-and-out after that, and Boyd guided an eight-play, 86-yard march and finished it off himself with a one-yard plunge to make it 35-7 going into halftime.
The Tigers blew the game open on their first drive after halftime. After the defense forced a punt, Clemson faced a third-and-15 from the shadow of its own goal posts.
But Boyd dropped back and lofted a high, deep ball down the sideline to Watkins, who hauled in the pass and outran the Cavalier defense for a 96-yard touchdown.
"We all know how explosive he is," offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. "And Tajh has a great feel to put the ball out there and let him go make a play. I can promise you that they were probably supposed to stay back, and Sammy did a good job of setting it up."
The play was the longest pass of Boyd's career and the longest reception of Watkins' career. It was the second-longest play from scrimmage in school history, behind only a 97-yard play against Virginia in 1974.
"I don't know what the cornerback was doing, but he was a very young guy, and that was our game plan - to go at him," Watkins said.
Watkins now has six 100-yard receiving games this year and 13 in his career, which is a Clemson record. He needs just 111 receiving yards to break DeAndre Hopkins' career record.
"I still think I've got a lot more in me," Watkins said. "The coaches push me every week, and I'm getting better every week with just blocking and being physical and making the catches they expect me to make."
The Cavaliers made it 42-10 with a 40-yard field goal by Alec Vozenilek on the next possession.
Redshirt freshman reserve quarterback Chad Kelly extended the Tigers lead to 49-10 with a 38-yard touchdown run, stiff-arming the last Cavalier defender near the 20-yard line and cruising into the end zone.
"We really had some good, clean execution tonight in all three phases," Swinney said. "It was probably our most complete game in a while, as far as just putting it all together. We'd been really close, but just hadn't been able to put it all together. And tonight we did."
Clemson Team Notes
*Clemson won today’s game by a 59-10 score. It was the largest margin of victory for the Tigers in an ACC road game since a 55-0 win at
*Clemson’s 59 points scored were the most by the Tigers this year and the most since Clemson scored 62 last year in a 62-48 win over NC State at Clemson. The 59 points scored were the most points scored by the Tigers on an opponent’s home field since the Tigers won at South Carolina 63-17 in 2003.
*’With this win, Clemson is now 8-1 for the third straight year.
*This is the second straight week Clemson has scored at least 40 points and gained at least 500 yards in total offense. Clemson also did it last year against
*Clemson’s defense forced 10 three-and-outs today, giving the defense 19 over the last two games.
*Clemson finishes its ACC road record with a 4-0 mark, the first time Clemson has gone 4-0 on the road in the ACC since 1995.
*Today’s win should keep Clemson in the top 10 of both polls for the 11th straight week. That will be the longest streak in Clemson history. The 1981 team had a 10-week streak on the way to winning the National Championship.
*This was Clemson’s eighth consecutive win away from the home, the longest streak since Clemson had a nine-game streak away from home from 1978-79.
*This was Clemson’s 16th straight win over a non-ranked team by double digits. Only
*Tajh Boyd completed a 96-yard touchdown pass to Sammy Watkins on Clemson’s first possession of the third period. It was the second longest play from scrimmage and the second longest pass play in Clemson history. The only one longer is a 97 yard pass from Mark Fellers to Craig Brantley against
*Tajh Boyd made his 36th consecutive start today, one short of the Clemson record for a quarterback. When Clemson faces Georgia Tech on November 14, Boyd will tie Charlie Whitehurst’s record of 37 in a row set between 2002-05.
*Today was Boyd’s 29th win as Clemson starting quarterback, three short of Rodney Williams record of 32 for a career. But, Boyd tied the Clemson record for wins against ACC teams today with his 20th against a league opponent. He will have a chance to break that mark November 14 when Clemson plays host to Georgia Tech.
*Boyd became the ACC’s career leader in touchdown responsibility when he threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Sammy Watkins on Clemson’s first possession and fifth play of the game. He now has 116 for his career, 93 passing and 23 rushing.
*Boyd completed his first nine passes of the game for 135 yards and a touchdown. He finished 24-29 for 377 yards and three touchdowns. He had passing efficiency of 219, his third over 200 this year and third best this year.
*Boyd had his 16th career 300-yard passing game today. He is second in ACC history with 16. Only Philip Rivers of NC State had more with 18 between 2000-03. Boyd now has 93 career touchdown passes, just two short of Rivers 95, the ACC record.
*Sammy Watkins became the third player in Clemson history to go over 200 receptions in a career today. He caught his 200th on a 33 yard touchdown reception from Tajh Boyd on Clemson’s first drive of the game. Aaron Kelly had 232 between 2005-08 and DeAndre Hopkins had 206 between 2010-12.
*Watkins finished with eight catches for 169 yards on the day and two touchdowns. It was the third most yards in a game for Watkins in his career. He now needs just 111 receiving yards to break DeAndre Hopkins career record. Watkins now has six 100-yard yard receiving games this year and 13 for his career, an all-time Clemson record. The previous record was 12 by DeAndre Hopkins between 2010-12.
*Watkins caught his sixth and seventh touchdown passes of the year and now has 22 for his career. Today was the fifth time in the last six games that Watkins caught a touchdown pass. Ironically, the only game he has failed to catch one in that time was the
*Jayron Kearse had an interception and a caused fumble in the second period today. He is now tied for the team lead in interceptions with three for 62 yards. He leads the team in interception return yards. He has had an interception two weeks in a row.
*Rod McDowell led Clemson in rushing today with 70 yards on 12 attempts. He also caught his first career touchdown pass from Tajh Boyd. McDowell did not score a touchdown in Clemson’s first seven games and now has four over the last two games.
*Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins are the only players nationally to connect on two pass plays of at least 90 yards this year. There were 12 90-yard pass plays at the FBS level entering today’s play.
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