- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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After Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins put forth his best performance of the season -- and one of the best in school history I may add -- coach Dabo Swinney said, "Now maybe everybody will quit asking me about Sammy Watkins."
Uhh ... Coach? Don't be so sure about that.
Watkins had his best game of the season last Thursday night against Wake Forest, with eight catches for a school-record 202 yards in the breakout performance everybody anticipated would happen much earlier this season.
But a variety of factors precluded Watkins from picking up where he left off after a dazzling freshman year -- most notably a two-game suspension and an illness that forced him to miss game time as well. So what we saw out of Watkins on Thursday night begged a follow-up question this week -- is Watkins in his groove now?
"He really has not played bad," Swinney said on the ACC coaches call. "He played great in the first game (Furman), just didn't play a whole lot. One of his first touches went for a touchdown. Didn't play great at Florida State. That's when he was starting to get a little sick. We didn't know. Next thing you know, he's out another game. Then he came back. I thought he played pretty doggone good against Virginia Tech. Over 100 yards all-purpose, did some good things for us.
"People expect him to just do the superhuman stuff because that's what he's made look easy. He hadn't had moments like that yet. But I knew it was just a matter of time."
Watkins did the superhuman for most of 2011, with 2,288 all-purpose yards and a littany of All-America and ACC honors. Increased expectations were placed on Watkins after his breakout rookie year, and he was the preseason choice for ACC player of the year. Were they unreasonable expectations? Breakout seasons as special as Watkins' force us to believe in grander possibilities, unreasonable or not.
As each week progressed and Watkins did not gain 100 yards, Swinney fielded question after question about when his star player would get going. Never mind that DeAndre Hopkins has put together a mighty fine season of his own. The focus squarely remained on the reigning ACC Rookie of the Year.
"He's played four and a half games now. He's kind of settling in," Swinney said. "As I said last week, we're going to need him to play great down the stretch for us to have the type of finish we want to have. (It was) good to see him be able to make some of those plays that people expect him to make, running away from people, breaking tackles, that type of stuff.
"Again, as I tell people all the time, he impacts the game regardless of what the stat column says."
5dAndrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna