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Watson makes most of opportunity in Clemson debut

Gainesville grad throws TD pass against UGA on first drive of college career

POSTED: August 31, 2014 12:50 a.m.
Jared Putnam/The Times

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) smiles while several of his teammates celebrate his touchdown pass to Charone Peake against Georgia on Saturday in Athens.

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ATHENS — Deshaun Watson didn't know when his moment was coming. That didn't stop him from making the most of it.

The Clemson freshman backup quarterback and Gainesville High product threw a touchdown pass on his first drive in a 45-21 loss to Georgia on Saturday night.

"I just had to wait for my time," Watson said. "Coach (Chad) Morris said 'always be ready.' ... I just took advantage of my opportunity."

In another way, playing at Sanford Stadium was a long-awaited moment. Watson said he had circled the return to his home state more than two years ago after committing to Clemson.

"It was great coming home," Watson said. "There's a lot of Georgia fans that were supporting me."

Watson faked a handoff and ran for seven yards on his first play as a college quarterback.

Then Watson made a 29-yard completion to Mike Williams on his fifth play. He connected with Charone Peake, guarded by two defenders, across the middle for a 30-yard touchdown pass on his sixth play.

"Peake and the offensive line made me look great," Watson said.

All told, Watson had 66 yards of total offense on the six-play, 78-yard drive that tied the game 14-14 with 13:52 remaining in the second quarter.

"No, I wasn't nervous," Watson said. "Just having fun."

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said Saturday was good experience for Watson.

"What a great first drive for his career," Swinney said.

Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris praised Watson's collegiate debut just down the road from his hometown.

"I did not think the environment, I did not think the atmosphere was too big for him," Morris said.

Tiger starting quarterback Cole Stoudt, a senior, was 15 of 28 passing for 130 yards with an interception and added 16 rushing yards. Watson was 2 for 4 for 59 yards and the touchdown through the air and tallied minus-3 rushing yards in limited action.

"Cole is our starting quarterback," Morris said. "We all understand Deshaun is the future. We're trying to get him ready for when it's his turn."

Swinney emphasized that the quarterback playing time will be a week-by-week decision for Clemson.

While fans may wonder if Watson will eventually take over the starting job this season, the freshman insists he and Stoudt are good friends cheering for each other. He said Stoudt congratulated him when he came off the field after his touchdown.

"I always try to learn from the experienced guy and the senior, the leader of the offense," Watson said. "It's been great these past several weeks getting to know Cole Stoudt. It's going to be a long season, and I know he's going to be great."

Watson also played a pair of series in the second half, with the Tigers going three-and-out once in the third quarter and once in the fourth with Watson at the controls.

After his strong start on the Tigers' fifth drive, his next opportunity came on Clemson's 11th drive. He ran for five yards on the first play of that third-quarter series but overthrew a receiver on third down.

Then, Watson ran for a yard on first down and was sacked twice in the fourth quarter.

Watson, who had more than 17,000 yards of offense in four years for the Red Elephants and led them to the 2012 Class AAAAA state title, said he will remain ready whenever called upon.

"I just go with the flow," Watson said. "I've just got to get better every day."



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