As far as Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris is concerned, the season is just beginning for sophomore receiver Sammy Watkins.
Watkins was suspended for the first two games of the season and missed another game with a virus, and he has yet to truly have the kind of impact he did a year ago because of his inconsistent and sporadic playing time.
Expect that to change in the second half of the season.
“He’s like a play-caller,” Morris said. “You’ve got to get into a rhythm. He’s been unable to get into a rhythm. He’s still extremely talented. He hasn’t changed. He hasn’t been in playing shape. That takes a little bit to get to that point. ... He was out. It was tough to get anything out of him. He tried to practice on Monday and Tuesday that week, and there was just no way. He gave us everything he had -- he’s such a great competitor -- but he couldn’t do it.
“He had a chance this past week to really work on his conditioning, and I think what you’re going to see is Sammy Watkins playing his best football when this team needs him the most,” Morris said, “and that’s the second half of this season.”
Watkins, who has 16 catches for 118 yards in three games, isn’t the only member of the offense Morris is expecting more from down the stretch. As a matter of experience and familiarity, Clemson has expanded its offensive playbook in the second season under Morris. Heading into Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech, Clemson has scored at least 37 points in each of its last five games, just the second time the program has done that. Clemson ranks in the top 13 in the nation in passing (11th at 324.7), 13th in total offense (525.8) and 11th in scoring offense (41.3).
And yet even with the ACC's leading rusher, Andre Ellington, and leading receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, and one of the top quarterbacks in Tajh Boyd, Morris said the Tigers are still capable of much more.
“We’re still leaving a lot out there that could make us even more explosive,” Morris said. “... There’s so much more we can do right now to improve on. I’m excited to challenge these guys in the second half of the season and remind them of our downfall last year in the second half, when we went 3-3. That’s the challenge -- just play with a hunger from an offensive standpoint that you had when I got here."
When Morris took over, Clemson's offense had finished the 2010 season No. 86 in the country at 24 points per game. They've almost doubled that. Despite the offensive breakthrough in Morris' first season, though, the Tigers faltered in 2011 and lost three of their final five regular-season games. Morris said he hasn't hesitated to remind his players of that as they prepare for a Virginia Tech defense that shutout Duke for three quarters last weekend.
“That’s our challenge to them right now -- don’t be satisfied,” Morris said. “It’s not the first six games you’re remembered by, it will be the last six.”