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Wonderful Watkins: Freshman receiver has No. 8 Tigers churning

Sammy Watkins did not ask his shield of blockers for much Saturday night -- just a sliver of space.

"I told them, 'boys, just block one time and give me a crease,'" said Watkins of his plea prior to returning a kick 89 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of Clemson's 56-45 victory at Maryland.

Clemson improved to 20th in the nation in kickoff return average (24.8 yards per return) after Watkins returned six kicks for 207 yards at Byrd Stadium. Clemson (7-0, 4-0 ACC) will attempt to continue stellar special teams play when it plays host to North Carolina (5-2, 1-2) at noon Saturday (ESPN).

Clemson ranked seventh in the initial BCS standings released Sunday, thanks in large part to a breakout special teams performance at Maryland.

"The big difference in the game was our special teams, our kick return was outstanding," Swinney said. "We had a breakout game. The guys did a good job blocking and Sammy was just tremendous."

Clemson, which remains ranked No. 8 in the Associated Press and coaches poll, is undefeated this deep into the season for first time since 2000.

Clemson received effective play in two of the game's three phases -- offense and special teams -- to overcome what Swinney called the defense's "worst game of the year."

Swinney made producing more explosive plays in the kick return game through new blocking schemes a point of emphasis in practice last week. His timing was impeccable, as Clemson needed Watkins' touchdown return and a 70-yard Watkins return that set up another score to hold off Maryland.

Watkins has the talent to impact the special teams play the way C.J. Spiller did for Clemson in 2009, though he also lost a fumble on a punt return.

Watkins made a clean sweep of awards Sunday, being named the national player of the week, national rookie of the week and ACC player of the week by Rivals.com after setting the program's single-game total yardage mark with 345 yards against Maryland -- eclipsing Spiller's 312-yard performance against Florida State in 2009.

Watkins ranks fourth in the nation total yards (1,205 yards) and eighth in the nation in receiving yards (728).

"Guys just gain confidence knowing we can find ways to win," Swinney said.

"Sometimes it's the defense having to hold people like up at Virginia Tech, this week it was the offense (and special teams) having to outscore them."

Extra points

Clemson is ranked in the top 10 in the BCS standings for the second time in program history. Clemson also ranked seventh in the BCS standings on Oct.

23, 2000 ... Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown picked up 80 rushing yards on seven scrambles as Swinney said Clemson linemen failed to stay in their rush lanes ... Swinney said the team did not sustain any significant injuries at Maryland. ... Clemson was met by another large crowd when it returned to Memorial Stadium early Sunday morning around 3 a.m. ... Swinney said the season-ending injury to South Carolina back Marcus Lattimore saddened him and called the sophomore a "first-class person."

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