Note: The following appears in the Miami football gameday program.
Editor’s Note – For each program in 2022, Tim Bourret chronicles a great individual performance in Clemson history. Today is the sixth installment.
There are records for statistical accomplishments in bowl games, and there are records for accomplishments in any game. Only one Clemson player currently has a single-game record that stands in both categories.
That man is three-time All-America wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who set the Clemson standard for receptions and receiving yards in a game when he had 16 catches for 227 yards against Ohio State in the Orange Bowl at the conclusion of the 2013 season.
In addition to those numbers being Tiger standards, they also stand as records by a player in an Orange Bowl, an annual game that dates to Jan. 1, 1935. It would prove to be Watkins’ final game as a Tiger, and what a way to go out.
On top of his individual accomplishments that night, the Tigers defeated the No. 7 Buckeyes, led by Head Coach Urban Meyer, 40-35 in one of the most exciting bowl games in school history.
The victory gave Clemson a second straight 11-2 season and brought Clemson to a No. 8 final ranking in the AP poll and No. 7 according to the coaches poll, the highest ranking for the program in any final poll since 1982.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd had a phenomenal game as well in his Tiger swan song. The Clemson graduate, who is now on Dabo Swinney’s staff, completed 31-40 passes for 378 yards and five touchdowns. He also had 20 carries for 127 yards and a touchdown. His 505 total yards were a Clemson record at the time and are second most in Clemson history. It is also still the Orange Bowl standard.
Boyd and Watkins talked about it being their final game together in the days leading up to the contest.
“Sammy did not announce he was going pro until after the game, but we knew it would be his last college game,” explained Boyd of the Clemson wide receiver who would be the No. 4 overall pick of the 2014 NFL draft. “We talked about it the week of the game, and it was a motivating factor to go out on a high note.”
Boyd said recently it was predictable that Watkins had a career game against the Buckeyes. First of all, he was a great player and had an All-America season, but the Buckeyes were without their top cornerback, who was slated to defend Watkins.
“When we saw that Bradley Roby was not going to play, we knew there would be some opportunities against their secondary,” admitted Boyd. “Roby had been an All-American and a two-time All-Big Ten selection, and he is still playing in the NFL.”
Roby suffered an injury in the Big Ten Championship Game and was doubtful. When the Buckeyes came out for warmups, he was not in uniform. So, Boyd looked for Watkins from the get-go.
“We always talked about taking the ‘free three’ when it came to the short passing game,” said Boyd. “In reality, it was a ‘free seven’ when it came to Sammy. No one could turn a short pass into a seven-yard gain like Sammy.
“And it was always open, because they had to guard against the big play. Sammy had a chance to take it the distance every time he touched the ball.”
It did not take long for Boyd and Watkins to strike. With the score tied 7-7 in the first quarter, Boyd connected with Watkins on a 34-yard touchdown pass.
“It was a post pattern,” stated Boyd. “All I had to do was put it in front of him, and he ran to the ball.”
Ohio State had a 29-20 lead in the third quarter until Boyd hit Watkins for a touchdown off a reverse sprint-out pass. The score went back and forth the remainder of the night. The teams traded turnovers late, and Clemson came away with a 40-35 victory.
Watkins was named the game’s MVP by the media in attendance, the only time a wide receiver has been named MVP in a Tiger bowl victory.
“When I look back on that game and Sammy’s career, you have to look at Sammy as one of the all-time greats of college football,” added Boyd. “I was so fortunate that my three years as a starting quarterback at Clemson coincided with his three years here.”