Watkins, defense won't change approach for Cardinals


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Watkins has been a force in the middle this season
Watkins has been a force in the middle this season

Carlos Watkins and his Clemson defensive teammates know what they are facing Saturday night at Death Valley.

But that’s not going to make them prepare any differently than they have for any other game.

“It’s true what (head coach Dabo Swinney) says,” Watkins said. “It doesn’t matter who or where we play. That’s kind of our motto. We don’t take anybody lightly. Just like last week, we treated it as a national championship game. This week, it’s the same thing. It’s just our mentality.”

That approach has worked well for the Tigers in recent seasons.

On Saturday, fifth-ranked Clemson hosts third-ranked Louisville and standout quarterback Lamar Jackson.

Jackson ranks eighth nationally in rushing (131.5 yards per game) and 12th in passing (332.5 yards), and he leads the nation in scoring (18.0 points per game).

Louisville leads the nation in scoring offense (63.5 points) and total offense (682.0 yards) and ranks third in rushing offense (318.25 yards) and 10th in passing offense (363.8 yards).

“Trying to contain a guy like that, you can’t let him get into open space, so it’s my job as a D-lineman to make sure we contain him and put pressure on him,” Watkins said. “It’s definitely a challenge to a defense. We go in with a chip on our shoulder. I know he’s been getting a lot of hype. Definitely, it’s a game to state ourselves as a good defense.”

Clemson’s defense has done just that in recent seasons, and that has continued early this season.

The Tigers rank in the top 10 in three major categories: scoring defense (11.0 points, tied for fifth); passing defense (125.8 yards per game, third); and total defense (218.5 yards per game, third).
Clemson is also 15th in rushing yards allowed per game at 92.75.

Watkins, a senior defensive tackle, is sixth on the team with 19 tackles, and he has three tackles for loss.

“I wouldn’t say it’s tough; you just have to play disciplined. That’s one thing we’ve been doing the past few weeks, playing disciplined. If we just do our job, everything else will take care of itself,” Watkins said. “I really haven’t been paying attention to the media. People have their predictions and what-not, but we just go out there and play how we’ve gotta play. We just try to block all the media attention out. We know it’s a big game. Every game is big to us. That’s our mentality, so we work hard each week.”

The defense’s focus includes pressuring the opposing quarterback, and that will continue Saturday. Clemson has 38 tackles for loss and 13 sacks. Watkins has three of those sacks, and he hoping practicing against Deshaun Watson will help prepare for the defense for what it will see Saturday.

“Any quarterback, if we can put pressure in his face, it makes him uncomfortable. We definitely are trying to put pressure on him just to throw him off a little bit,” Watkins said. “(Jackson) actually has a great arm, and his speed is unreal. He’ll probably be one of the fastest guys on the field Saturday. We get looks like that in practice. D-Wat definitely has an arm. I wouldn’t say he’s as fast as ‘Action’ Jackson, but he gives us a great look.”

While Watkins acknowledged Saturday is a big game, the Tigers have played in a lot of these games recently. Last year, alone, Clemson played four top-10 teams and won three of those games.

Playing at night at Death Valley can’t hurt, either.

“Definitely, definitely. I ain’t gonna lie. The sun probably drains them at noon when it’s hot,” Watkins said of the fans and what kind of atmosphere expects Saturday. “But a night game, really the spirits are going to be high throughout the whole day since it’s a night game. It really helps the defense out when Death Valley is loud.

“We have played in some pretty big games. But like I said, it’s just how we prepare. We don’t look at any teams differently. We know what they’re capable of. It’s just how we prepare, and we just try to block out all the media and focus on what we’ve gotta do.”

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Midday Sports Zone on Middle Georgia’s ESPN, 93.1 FM and 99.5 FM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at macon.com/peachsports

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