CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) No. 12 Clemson never expected serious trouble in its opener with Wofford. The rest of the Tigers’ season, though, turned a bit murky when 1,000-yard receiver Mike Williams went out with a scary neck injury.
Williams, a junior who made the all-Atlantic Coast Conference second team last fall with 57 catches and 1,030 yards, slammed into the goalpost support and sprained his neck on a 4-yard touchdown grab that started the Tigers on their way to a 49-10 victory over Wofford on Saturday.
Williams was down on the ground for several minutes before being strapped to a backboard, carted off the field and taken to a hospital. Williams raised his arm in the air in salute to cheering fans.
Williams was walking around with full movement in his arms and legs, according to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. Willilams was back with his teammates once the game ended, wearing a neck brace and even signing a few autographs in the team tunnel.
Swinney had no idea how long Williams might be out, though quarterback Deshaun Watson thinks it won’t be that long.
”He’s tough,” said Watson, who directed the Tigers to touchdowns on all six drives he played. ”He’s just going out there and giving it his all for the team.”
Williams’ biggest worry was whether his catch in the end zone was ruled a score, said co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott. ”He was glad to find out it was a touchdown,” Elliott said about the grab, first ruled out of bounds.
Clemson opened with a win for the seventh straight season and improved to 30-0 against FCS opponents.
The Tigers struggled when they last faced the Terriers four years ago, winning 35-27. This time, Clemson powered to a 35-0 lead with five minutes left before halftime.
Wayne Gallman had touchdown runs of 2 and 1 yard, and Tyshon Dye added a pair of 1-yard scoring runs. Zac Brooks, who missed last season with a foot injury, had a 25-yard touchdown run for Clemson.
Watson, coming off ACL surgery on his left knee last December, got off to a strong start. The sophomore hit his first five passes and had a second touchdown pass of 35 yards to Artavis Scott before stepping to the sidelines after one series of the second half.
A year ago, Watson spent time off the field in much different circumstances: Injuries to his right hand and left knee costing him five games in 2014 and leading to ACL surgery this past December. But he has had a problem free summer of rehabilitation and came out to show that to the sold-out crowd of 81,345 at Death Valley.
”Everything felt good,” Watson said. ”I was just out there playing like I had been before.”
Watson’s health is a major factor in Clemson’s chances for big things this season. The Tigers were picked to win the ACC this summer, with Watson voted the favorite for league player of the year. A season ago, Watson missed five games because of injuries to his right hand and left knee.
Gallman finished with 92 yards rushing, and touted freshman Ray-Ray McCloud led Clemson with eight catches for 80 yards. The Tigers outgained Wofford 533-213.
The lone bit of drama after Clemson’s fast start came right before halftime when the Terriers were at the 1 with a second left and the sellout crowd at Death Valley screaming for a defensive stop. Chase Nelson got into the end zone for Wofford’s only TD.
The Terriers received $275,000, plus $90,000 in tickets (3,000 at $30 apiece) for the trip to Death Valley.
Wofford coach Mike Ayers said his defense was on its heels because of the Terriers’ ineffective offense.
”You could look at the stats and see we’re half a team,” Ayers said. ”Offensively, we really struggled.”