Clemson star quarterback Deshaun Watson is expected to be fine after leaving Saturday’s game late in the second quarter with a bruised shoulder, but unlike past years, the Tigers appear to have a backup quarterback who is capable of leading the offense should Watson go down.
When Watson missed time with injuries during his freshman season, Clemson looked like an entirely different offense. Backup Cole Stoudt threw six touchdowns with 10 interceptions in the 2014 regular season, and the players around him clearly lacked confidence in him.
This year’s backup, Nick Schuessler, has been very impressive in limited action. In three games, he’s 19 for 29 passing for 303 yards with three touchdowns and no picks.
His first extended playing time of the season came Saturday against Syracuse. Schuessler replaced Watson late in the second quarter and the Tigers didn’t miss a beat. The senior played a little more than a quarter and completed 11 of 17 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns without turning the ball over.
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“He grabbed his helmet and went to work. It was a pretty smooth transition. It was kind of neat to see him go right out there,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said. “That’s a really hard thing to do, but that young man has prepared and prepared and prepared and prepared. He went in there and we didn’t miss a beat.”
Schuessler, a redshirt senior, has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches with his play in practice. They weren’t surprised to see him have success.
“We have a lot of confidence in him. He’s been showing that since fall camp,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “I’m really glad that he had an opportunity to come out and show what he’s capable of.”
Sophomore receiver Deon Cain added, “When Nick came in he did his thing. He played very well. We practice with him all the time in practice and he always stays consistent.”
Schuessler originally signed with Mississippi State before coming to Clemson. He sat out the 2012 season as a redshirt and threw 10 passes combined in 2013-14. Last year, he was 13 of 23 passing for 177 yards with an interception while serving as Watson’s backup.
The Grayson, Ga. native said the longer he’s been at Clemson, the more comfortable he has felt.
“To go out there and get some in-game experience like that in the first half and have the playbook wide open and go out there and play, it was big for me and my confidence and my development,” he said.
Watson has 95 carries on the year and has taken numerous big hits, including a couple against Syracuse.
It’s entirely possible Schuessler could be called upon again before the season is over.
While he isn’t Watson, Schuessler is capable of having success in Clemson’s offense, especially with the weapons the Tigers have around him.
“What y’all see today is what we see in practice all the time,” Swinney said. “He’s prepared to go play. … You’ve got to be ready. It’s great experience that will pay off for us if we need him later in the season.”
Who: Pittsburgh at Clemson
When: 3:30 p.m., Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium
Line: Clemson by 18