When the Ferris wheel stopped after Deshaun Watson injured a knee, and fans gripped the safety bars until their knuckles turned white, Nick Schuessler wasn’t prepared to for the ride.
Apparently Schuessler intends to avoid a repeat, based on his performance in Clemson’s first six practices of spring.
“I can’t say enough good things about Nick Schuessler,” Coach Dabo Swinney said Monday. “This was one of those practices you wished everybody got to see it. It was impressive.”
Schuessler missed a chance to elevate his profile after Cole Stoudt’s miserable performance at Georgia Teach after Watson’s injury. If Swinney had taken a vote of fans, Schuessler was the proverbial people’s choice to replace Watson based on an impromptu and unscientific poll.
The knock, if that’s the appropriate characterization, was that Schuessler hadn’t fully invested himself, so his coaches weren’t convinced he could handle the job. Stoudt started the next week, beat Oklahoma in the bowl game and Watson had surgery to repair the torn knee ligament.
“It’s just great to see the light come on for guys,” Swinney said. “He has done an outstanding job of leading. He’s made some big-time throws, and he’s playing with a sense of urgency that I have not seen from Nick since he’s been here. He is playing with a confidence. As a result of that he’s playing fast and more decisive and he’s more accurate.
“This is just great seeing him take it and run with it.”
Down to Watson and Schuessler as the calendar flipped, Clemson signed quarterbacks Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel with the new freshman class and encouraged them to enroll in January.
“Those two guys are getting better every day,” Swinney said “They’re absorbing it well.”
After a meeting in shorts on Friday, the team will be released for spring break, and Swinney needs the team to return with a grip of what they learned the first two weeks. He expected Bryant and Israel to take advantage of the time.
“This break will be good for them because they’re both the kind of guys that will go back and be further along when they get back,” Swinney said.
A tall, athletic kid with a good arm, Schuessler threw eight passes last season, but as a redshirt junior he should know the offense and Swinney said it has been obvious. If Bryant and Israel continue to progress, it could be interesting, but for now the pecking order isn’t a debate.
“We’re just going to line them up, and whoever gives us a chance to win,” Swinney said when asked if it might be prudent to redshirt the freshmen. “Whoever your backup is, he’s one rolled ankle away from going in and we’re expected to win. When the backup comes in they don’t turn the scoreboard off.
“Walk-on, true freshman, it doesn’t matter. And right now Nick is way out in front.
With Watson’s injury history his first 12 months at Clemson, perhaps it’s a safe bet Schuessler might see an opportunity.
“I was very curious to see how he was going to come to work this spring,” Swinney said. “He has really asserted himself (saying), ‘Hey, I’m the leader. Let’s go.’”