A year after getting torched by Watkins as a freshman (seven catches, 141 yards and two touchdowns), the Noles changed their approach and got physical with Watkins at the line of scrimmage.
In last year’s 49-37 victory at Doak Campbell Stadium, Florida State held Watkins to six catches and a meager 24 yards. All night long Watkins seemed out of sync and struggled to get separation from Seminole defenders. Although they still gave up 37 points, the Noles achieved two goals: slow down Watkins and win the game.
There is a new defensive coordinator in Tallahassee this year (Jeremy Pruitt), but you can bet he’ll use a similar tactic when the Noles play Clemson in the ACC‘s Game of the Century on Saturday night.
Therefore, it is imperative that Clemson’s highly-touted offensive coordinator, Chad Morris, find ways to get Watkins some free releases.
One of the more obvious ways to achieve this goal is to use him in motion. When lined up in a stationary position as a flanker or split end, cornerbacks have a chance to get prepared to jam Watkins and throw off his timing. If he’s in motion, it’s a much more difficult task because he’s already on the move. It’s not like Watkins is waifish receiver, either. He’s listed at 6-foot 205 pounds and has a solid upper body build. If he’s given a bit of a head start, it will be a challenge for the Seminoles to get physical with him at the line of scrimmage.
The other way to protect his releases is to use him out of the backfield more. As a freshman, Watkins was often used in the run game because of his dynamic play-making abilities when he gets the ball in his hands. It looks as though Clemson has gone away from that strategy the longer he’s been on campus.
In fact, this year, he’s carried the ball only three times, the same total he had from the FSU game alone his freshman year.
I realize that more carries on jet sweeps and reverses exposes Watkins to more hits, but in a game of this magnitude, he needs to touch the ball as much as possible.
Last year, the Tigers were able to rely on DeAndre Hopkins to carry the load. This year, they simply don’t have a player of that caliber opposite Watkins. Charone Peake is done for the season, Martavis Bryant is too inconsistent, and Adam Humphries is a nice player but not much of a deep threat.
It remains to be seen who the Noles will put on Watkins (likely Lamarcus Joyner), but whoever it is, I’d expect them to try the same method that they used last year. This summer, Watkins was asked about Florida State’s strategy and told GreenvilleOnline.com that he welcomed the challenge.
“Let’s see if they do it again,” Watkins said. “I pray that they do, I want to be pressed at the line on every play.”
Something tells me he’ll get his wish.
B.L. is an ACC Football writer for Rant Sports and can be followed on Twitter @coachlip or on Google