Whether it was rust, dropped passes or a lack of chemistry, whatever caused Deshaun Watson and the Clemson passing game to get off to a slow start in 2016 appears to be well in the rearview mirror.
After throwing nine touchdown passes in the first four games of the season, Watson has nine touchdown passes in the past 6 1/2 quarters against two of the top-20 defenses in the country in Louisville and Boston College.
The Eagles entered last Friday’s game with the No. 1-ranked defense in the nation before Watson torched BC for 266 yards and four touchdowns before leaving the game early in the fourth quarter.
The junior appears to be finding his groove at the right time as Clemson’s next two games, at home against N.C. State and at Florida State, could be the toughest two remaining on the schedule.
“I’ve been getting better each and every week. The grades that I’ve been getting back from my quarterback coach, Coach (Brandon) Streeter, and watching film with him, I’ve been improving each and every week, and this whole offense has, too,” Watson said Monday. “That’s the good thing about us. We’ve still yet to play our best ball.”
Clemson entered the year with a host of returning starters on offense, including almost all of its skill position players.
The unit was expected to pick up where it left off last year, when the Tigers put together 11 consecutive games of more than 500 yards of offense to close the season, but co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott believes those expectations were unrealistic.
“It was a unique situation where pretty much at every position, we had a premiere guy where it’s probably their last year here and a lot of expectations and all of that stuff. Deshaun was kind of the leader of that group being the quarterback,” Scott said. “After the Troy game, for a lot of those guys, it was like, ‘Hey, we need to forget the other stuff that’s going on and get focused on playing ball and get back to having fun.’ ”
The Tigers scored 19 points to open the year at Auburn and 30 the following week at home against Troy, but have averaged more than 45 points per game over the past four games.
“We want everybody to improve as the year goes. We want everybody to be playing their best ball at the right time,” Scott said. “Even early in the year, we got frustrated a little bit with some of the execution, but we just kind of felt like it was going to all come together and we would play our best ball at the right time, and I think that’s what we have a chance to do over the next few weeks.”
Clemson running back Wayne Gallman, who got off to a slow start himself, has had back-to-back games of more than 100 rushing yards after averaging 64 the first four weeks.
The junior has noticed more rushing lanes as Watson and the passing game have gotten going.
“Nobody’s going to start the season off at their best,” Gallman said. “It’s going to take a couple of games into it to really get your groove, and that’s what he’s gotten. It’s just practice and really getting back in that practice flow and things like that.”
Who: Clemson (6-0, 3-0) vs. N.C. State (4-1, 1-0)
When: Noon, Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium