Sure, Clemson needs to focus – much like last week – on the task at hand and get out of Death Valley with a win. The goals for Saturday are much the same as they were last week: 1. Win easily; 2. Get a lot of players on the field; 3. Avoid any major injuries.
But that won't be the focus of the fans -- or likely the media members either – at Death Valley.
Nope, they want to see No. 2 on the field for the first time this season. And who really can blame them?
Watkins was unbelievable during his freshman season, probably better than anyone, including the coaches, could have imagined. He definitely had one of the best freshman years, if not the best, in Clemson history, and Tigers were fans were excited to see that carryover into his sophomore season with a full year under his belt working in Chad Morris' offense.
Who wouldn't want to see Watkins running routes with DeAndre Hopkins, Charone Peake, Martavis Bryant, Adam Humphries and Brandon Ford and enjoy what that group could do with Tajh Boyd running the show? Just the thought of it got Tigers fans pumped up for the season and anxious to see what kind of numbers the offense would put up.
That full group, however, wasn't on display in the first two games because Watkins was suspended by Swinney after an offseason arrest. There were some complaints that Swinney's punishment was too harsh, but those were misguided. Swinney did the right thing for the program and showed what will happen to players in his program when they face off-field troubles.
The team is bigger than any one player, and that's the kind of program most college fans want to have. It's one thing to give players second chances and opportunities to overcome their mistakes, and that's admirable because young men certainly are going to make mistakes. It's another thing to turn a blind eye to off-field problems in one breath and then preach discipline and hard work in another.
Coaches can't have it both ways, and Swinney certainly has not tried to with his program. By sitting Watkins for two games, Swinney has set a precedent for other current players and for future players. If Swinney is going to punish a player like Watkins, a once-in-a-lifetime type talent who had a huge impact on the program and helped lead it to an ACC title, what will he do to someone else?
That sets a tone for the program moving forward, and it's the right tone to set.
Watkins, it seems, has learned his lesson. It would be surprising if he has any more off-field troubles; he was named an Academic All-American, after all, after his arrest. And it's not like he is a troubled young man or a player who has been a problem for the coaches to deal with since he arrived on campus. It was one mistake, and he paid the price for it.
Now it's time for Clemson's opponents to pay the price, and that starts Saturday.
As dynamic as Clemson's offense has been in the first two weeks (despite some drops against Auburn that kept that game closer than it should have been), imagine what it will be like with Watkins in the fold. Watkins was a game-changer last year, and the numbers back that up. He had 82 catches for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns.
But the numbers also don't do his impact justice. Just think about the big-game moments and game-changing plays he had last year. His long touchdown against Auburn gave Clemson the lead and sparked the Tigers to a big win. His late touchdown against Florida State sealed another key victory. And his game against Maryland, including two touchdown receptions and a kickoff return for another score, saved the Tigers that day. In short, when Clemson needed a big play, Watkins provided it.
He had at least seven catches in seven games, and he had surpassed 100 yards five times. Those numbers are startling for a true freshman in a first-year offense.
Watkins is playing catch up a bit after missing the first two games, but his impact can be just as important this season. With Boyd running the offense to near perfection, Ellington looking the best he has ever looked and Hopkins stepping into a go-to role, it's scary how good this offense can be with a Watkins injection.
And that's what everyone will be looking for Saturday.
Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter @DM_Shirley
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