Clemson’s Watkins among many challenges for WVU

West Virginia’s secondary has had its challenges this season.
Nothing will compare to what the Mountaineers are up against when
they face Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

All-Americans Sammy Watkins and Dwayne Allen are the latest
standout receivers West Virginia will face in a bowl game when the
23rd-ranked Mountaineers meet No. 14 Clemson on Jan. 4 in the
Orange Bowl.

Watkins’ speed and field awareness has enabled him to amass
1,153 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns as a freshman while proving
to be one of the nation’s most dangerous kickoff returners.

”He is a difference maker,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen
said. ”There is no question.”

The Mountaineers have about a half-dozen practices left to
figure out a scheme that might slow down Watkins and his teammates.
And they’ll have to do it without two-year starter Terence Garvin
at safety.

Garvin had knee surgery after the final regular-season game and
the junior will require six months of rehabilitation. Redshirt
freshman Wes Tonkery and freshman Shaq Petteway will battle for
Garvin’s spot in the bowl.

Clemson has surpassed 35 points eight times this season, and
Watkins is confident it can happen again.

”If we play on all cylinders and everyone is doing their job, I
think we can put up a lot of points on these guys,” he said.

Despite being slowed by a sore shoulder near the end of the
regular season, Watkins was the Atlantic Coast Conference rookie of
the year and a first-team All-America selection as an all-purpose
player by The Associated Press.

Few know him better than West Virginia cornerback Brodrick
Jenkins. They were high school teammates in Fort Myers, Fla.

They played two years of football together, ran track and hung
out after school. Watkins, of course, was a sprinter, while Jenkins
ran the hurdles and with Watkins on relays.

The first time Jenkins saw Watkins run the 100 meters, he
clocked 10.7 seconds. Jenkins said he never beat Watkins in a
race.

Outsmarting him on the football field also has proven to be
difficult.

”He knows what to do when he has the ball in his hand,”
Jenkins said. ”He knows how to get open and be able to help
exploit teams. When he has to deal with pressure, he’s good with
it.”

So Jenkins didn’t hesitate in saying that Watkins will be the
most dangerous receiver the Mountaineers will face this season. And
explaining it to his teammates isn’t necessary.

”I don’t need to tell them anything,” Jenkins said. ”Just
look at the tape and they’ll know.”

Cornerback Keith Tandy, who leads the Mountaineers in
interceptions and pass breakups, knows.

”You can see the type of athlete he is,” Tandy said. ”You can
see when he runs the double moves, he’s real good at that. His
athleticism is like something different that we’re not used to
seeing.”

Of course, Clemson (10-3) also has quarterback Tajh Boyd and his
other targets, including Allen, the John Mackey Award winner who
had 48 catches for 577 yards and eight scores, all school records
for a tight end. There’s also 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington and
871-yard receiver DeAndre Hopkins to worry about.

Nearly one of every five completions thrown by Boyd have gone
for 20 yards or more.

”You don’t have to watch a whole lot of film to understand
they’ve got playmakers all over the place,” said West Virginia
defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. ”Obviously, they’re very, very
talented – and deep – and they’re guys that can run. We’ll have our
work cut out for us. That’s the bad thing. Sometimes it can ruin
your holidays getting ready for these type of games. It’s going to
be a challenge trying to defend them.”

West Virginia (9-3) has faced top-notched receivers twice in
bowls in the past six seasons. The Mountaineers won both times but
got burned in the secondary.

North Carolina’s Hakeem Nicks caught eight passes for 217 yards
and three TDs in a 31-30 loss to the Mountaineers in the 2008
Meineke Bowl.

Georgia Tech’s Calvin Johnson had 186 yards receiving and two
TDs in a 38-35 loss to West Virginia in the Gator Bowl to conclude
the 2006 season.

While Watkins had five 100-yard receiving games this season, the
Mountaineers surrendered only one, and the most catches an opposing
receiver had were six on three occasions.

”All we have to do is try to stop the big plays,” Jenkins
said. ”That’s what that team is about – big plays. Once you
minimize the big plays, I think we’ll be OK.”