We won’t find out until this weekend if Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson did enough late in the season to win the Heisman Trophy, but the Georgia native made an impressive case with his play down the stretch.
In his final three games of the season, Watson accounted for 988 total yards, 14 total touchdowns and two interceptions in wins over Wake Forest, South Carolina and Virginia Tech. Both of his interceptions, one against USC and one in the ACC title game against the Hokies, came on tipped passes.
The junior completed 73 percent of his throws as Clemson rebounded from its only loss, by one point against Pitt, to win three straight behind Watson’s arm and leg.
Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson has been the favorite for the award for the majority of the season, but the Cardinals lost their final two games, opening the door for other candidates, most notably Watson.
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Tigers coach Dabo Swinney feels strongly his quarterback deserves the award.
“He might not have been the best player in September, but he’s been the best player in October and November and December,” Swinney said. “Lamar’s a great player too, but we went head-to-head. They lost three games and we lost one by one point. And in that game, our quarterback threw for 580 yards.”
Swinney added Watson’s performance is even more impressive because his quarterback has avoided distractions and overcome adversity to get Clemson back in the College Football Playoff.
“I don’t think that there’s any question that the expectations and pressure was even higher for him (than in 2015), but here we are 12-1 and ACC champs,” Swinney said.
Tigers receiver Deon Cain made his case for Watson after the ACC title game. Jackson attended the game to collect his ACC Player of the Year trophy, prompting Cain to say, “He was on the sideline watching today and our quarterback was playing.”
ENJOY THE SCENERY
Swinney said his team treated last year’s trip to Glendale, Ariz. for the national title game as a business trip and Clemson did not have much time to go out and about, but the Tigers plan to explore more this year as the semifinal game is set up similarly to a normal bowl game.
“We’ll spend some time. We’ll make sure we enjoy the trip. This is the bowl part of their postseason,” Swinney said. “The guys will get a chance to see what Arizona is all about, and I’ve got some guys out there with the Cardinals so I look forward to hooking up with some of them, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Watson said Clemson’s win in Saturday’s ACC title game was even more special than last season because the Tigers were able to clinch back-to-back ACC titles for the first time in 28 years.
“Both times it was pretty sweet, but I think this one is more sweet because it’s something we haven’t done in 28 years, win back-to-back championships, and we really had to earn it,” he said.