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Murphy: The case for Deshaun Watson in the Heisman Trophy race
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Clemson quarterback and Gainesville High graduate Deshaun Watson (4) dashes around Boston College defensive back Isaac Yiadom (20) and linebacker Ty Schwab (10) during the first half of the game Oct. 7 in Chestnut Hill, Mass. - photo by Elaine Thompson

Deshaun Watson’s Heisman hopes are looking solid right now. What a difference a week makes.

Even though it’s still a neck-and-neck battle, the Gainesville High graduate threw for 347 yards and six touchdowns for Clemson on Saturday, while his main competition for the award given to the top college football player, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson came up on the losing end for the second consecutive game.

Deshaun’s final pitch for the Heisman committee will come in the ACC Championship against Virginia Tech on Saturday.

Hopefully, everyone in Hall County is pulling for Deshaun to earn the Heisman, after finishing third in 2015.

With 374 yards on Saturday, Watson will have 4,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, a major reason why the dual-threat quarterback is likely to go high (probably first round) in the upcoming NFL draft.

The 4,000-yard passing mark is a common link of each of the last four quarterbacks to claim the Heisman: 2014 winner Marcus Mariota (4,454), 2013 Jameis Winston (4,057), 2012 Johnny Manziel (4,114) and in 2011 Robert Griffin III (4,293). Cam Newton, who won the Heisman at Auburn in 2010 only passed for 2,854 yards, but rushed for almost 1,500 that year.

Currently, Watson has 326 more passing yards and four more touchdowns than Jackson, who was almost a lock to win the Heisman before looking flat against Houston two weeks ago. The one thing working against Watson is his surge in interceptions (14 in 2016) which seems to be something every announcer harps on during Clemson broadcasts.

It just feels like Watson is doing everything right to impress the Heisman voters, mainly those of the sports writing ilk who get a say in these important matters.

Clemson’s quarterback, who guided the Red Elephants through the playoffs for the 2012 state championship, is playing his best football late in the season.

Against South Carolina, Watson was toying with defensive backs, putting the ball where only his receivers had a chance at making the grab. Certainly a 4,000-yard season and ACC championship should go a long way to getting the edge in Heisman voting.

Louisville’s sophomore quarterback Jackson was spectucular most of the season, but the undecided voters on the fence have to question his poor performance late in the regular season (three picks in a loss to Kentucky) into consideration when placing votes.

Meanwhile, Watson’s final month of the regular season has been captivating to watch as he’s jumped back into the Heisman conversation, while keeping the Tigers (11-1) in line for one of the four playoff spots. Watson threw for an ACC-record 580 yards for Clemson against Pittsburgh on Nov. 12, which got overshadowed by a 43-42 Tigers loss.

And the race for the Heisman is not just a two-man race. Quarterback Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma and linebacker Jabrill Peppers from Michigan are the leading best-of-the-rest Heisman options.

However, the final tally of first, second and third place votes will likely come down to a razor-thin margin between Watson and Jackson. I’m crossing my fingers and toes for the hometown boy.

Everything Deshaun’s done this season has been done under the microscope of continued national media attention and the understanding NFL scouts are dissecting his every move. Despite the interceptions, Watson’s accuracy has been remarkably high (68 percent) compared to that of Jackson (58 percent).

Heisman voters should also take into account that Watson has been a model citizen on and off the field during his whirlwind of a three-year college football career up the road in Clemson. In just a couple of months, Gainesville’s own product will be moving on to begin his quest for a career in the NFL.

Hopefully, he’ll go down as a Heisman winner.

Bill Murphy is sports editor of The Times. He can be reached at bmurphy@gainesvilletimes.com

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