CLEMSON — Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson isn’t worried about his Heisman Trophy status or looking for the longball, not with the 11th-ranked Tigers off to a perfect start.
Many were expecting Watson to put on a show for a national audience last Thursday night in Clemson’s 20-17 victory over Louisville. Instead, he was steady and unspectacular — and probably didn’t wow many Heisman voters still figuring out contenders from pretenders.
Watson is content with the only role he considers important — the starting quarterback of an undefeated team seeking bigger mountains to climb as the season unfolds.
“My mind is not on the Heisman right now. That’s going to take care of itself,” Watson said Monday. “I’m just here to do my part, do my job and get wins.”
So far, so good — even if it’s not always so pretty.
Clemson will look to clean things up during its bye week before facing No. 6 Notre Dame on Oct. 3. Right behind is No. 20 Georgia Tech on Oct. 10, a one-two punch that should go a long way toward determining Clemson’s championship hopes and Watson’s opportunity to win college football’s biggest individual prize.
If Watson is concerned about the accolades, he has not shown it, said offensive lineman Eric Mac Lain.
“I think he’s had (pressure) throughout his career,” Mac Lain said. “This is a kid who’s been successful at the college and high school rank. I’ve never seen Deshaun have a weak moment to where he’s too big or full of himself.”
Watson completed 21 of 30 passes for 199 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in the Louisville win. The lanky 6-foot-3 sophomore also ran for 54 yards as Clemson kept things churning with 202 yards rushing, its first time over the 200-yard mark in six Atlantic Coast Conference games since posting 226 in defeating North Carolina State 41-0 last October.
Watson did have a couple of stellar moments with a 32-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow to start the scoring and a 25-yard TD pass to Jordan Leggett in the third quarter that put the Tigers up for good. He also had a few throws that made you wince, particularly a pair of interceptions that blunted Clemson’s momentum at the start of each half.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney thought Watson was not helped by receiver Leggett on the first pick. The second one was just a bad throw, Swinney acknowledged.
“That’s one he’d like to have back,” the coach said.
Watson also wanted back a couple of runs where he came close to breaking free before getting tripped up by Louisville.
“I was a little disappointed in myself,” he said. “I probably should’ve kept standing and running and could’ve scored.”
Clemson is far from a finished product. Swinney told the story of his senior year at Alabama in 1992 when the Tide won the national championship and needed several early escapes — Alabama led Louisiana Tech 6-0 in the fourth quarter before David Palmer’s 63-yard punt return TD added a cushion — to remain on track.
“We got better as the year went on,” Swinney said. “And that’s what I want to see our team do.”
Watson leads the ACC with seven touchdown passes, but is just sixth in passing yards per game. He’s gone the past two games without the Tigers’ top deep threat in Mike Williams, a 1,000-yard receiver a year ago who broke a bone in his neck in the team’s opening win over Wofford.
Just because Watson didn’t dazzle fans with the longball against Louisville does not mean he won’t later on, co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said.
“It maybe wasn’t as exciting and glamorous as we want it to be, but when the defense challenges you to be patient, I felt like we did a really good job of not trying to force things,” he said.