Welcome back, Sammy Watkins.
After missing three games this season due to suspension and illness -- time spent sitting in the shadow of teammate DeAndre Hopkins -- Watkins had his breakout game of 2012 in a 42-13 victory over Wake Forest on Thursday night.
Make that his breakout half.
Watkins reminded ACC fans of his blazing speed and ability to juke defenders -- whenever the Deacs were even near him, that is. He racked up five catches for a career-high 177 yards and one touchdown in the first half, helping the No. 18 Tigers to a 35-7 halftime lead. Watkins alone outgained the Deacs in total yardage (105) in the first half, and he set a school record for receiving yards in a game (202). He became the first receiver in school history to have 200 receiving yards in a game.
It was the perfect example of how effective Clemson’s offense can be when both Watkins and Hopkins are at the tops of their respective games. The mere presence of each on the field opens up opportunities for the other. This time, though, Watkins was the story. His 202 yards on eight catches set a Clemson single-game record, breaking the previous record of 197 -- set by Hopkins way back on Sept. 29.
Hopkins' record lasted less than a month.
All season long many ACC and Clemson fans have been wondering if Watkins is the same player he was a year ago, when he had an All-America, record-setting season as a true freshman. He entered this season as a Heisman candidate, but with Watkins sidelined, Hopkins stole the show.
On Thursday, Watkins stole it back, just as offensive coordinator Chad Morris had predicted.
Watkins caught his first touchdown pass of the season in the second quarter, a 61-yard scoring pass from Tajh Boyd, who also had a record-setting night with 428 passing yards. It was the second-longest touchdown reception of Watkins' career. He also had catches of 57 and 50 yards in the first half.
Wake started to put some pressure on Boyd late in the third quarter, and tried to chip away at the deficit, but the first-half hole was too much to overcome, even with standout receiver Michael Campanaro back in the lineup despite a broken hand.
It was a complete performance for the Tigers and another one the defense could build on and take some pride in, especially after having to turn around and play on the road just five days after hosting Virginia Tech. The offense, though, took advantage of a struggling Wake Forest defense.
It was the seventh consecutive game in which Clemson has scored at least 37 points -- only the second time in ACC history a team has accomplished that feat. The only other league team to do it was the 1995 Florida State team.
Don't be surprised if that streak continues with Watkins back in form.