No matter what happens in Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl, or potentially the national title game, there is no doubt Deshaun Watson will go down as a legend at Clemson.
“It’s not going to be too much longer until they put a statue of him up outside of Clemson’s stadium,” Tigers tight end Jordan Leggett said. “What he’s done for the school and everything like that is pretty extraordinary.”
Watson has lifted Clemson’s program to new heights while excelling when the Tigers needed him the most.
The bigger the stage, the better he seems to play. Watson is 2-0 as a starter against Florida State, 3-0 against South Carolina and 2-0 in ACC championship games.
He also led Clemson to a 37-17 win in last year’s Orange Bowl, and his only loss in his career as a starter in a primetime matchup came in last year’s national title game against Alabama.
In the loss to the Crimson Tide, Watson passed for 405 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 73 yards against what was considered to be the top defense in the country.
“A lot of people didn’t think we would get a first down going into that game. That was kind of the rhetoric out there,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “I’m like, ‘I mean they’re really good, but we’ve played some good teams, and we practice against Shaq (Lawson) and (Kevin) Dodd and we get some first downs in practice from time-to-time, but that performance was amazing, because Alabama doesn’t make mistakes. We didn’t have guys running wide open. … He made throw after throw with incredible accuracy.”
Watson’s resume is as impressive as any player in college football over the past few years and includes back-to-back Davey O’Brien Award victories and back-to-back Heisman finalist appearances.
Watson admitted it was hard to be in New York for the Heisman ceremony on consecutive years and watch someone else collect the award, but said he still enjoyed the experience.
“It’s tough, of course, but at the same time it’s very humbling, and it’s just an honor to be able to sit up there in those chairs two years in a row because it’s very, very hard to do,” Watson said. “A lot of people don’t get the opportunity. A lot of people dream about it but don’t get the opportunity to sit up there.”
A lot of people also dream about winning a national title, and Watson has a chance to lead Clemson to one over the next couple of weeks. The Tigers are looking for their first national title since 1981.
To beat Ohio State and the winner of Washington and Alabama, Watson will likely have to continue his strong play in big games. He is eager for the challenge.
“I like the feeling. I like the intensity. I love the buildup for the game, because these are the games that you dream about as a little kid,” Watson said. “All the high school kids that are going to be watching Saturday night are going to be dreaming for moments like this. This is something that you work your whole life for to get to, this game and the magnitude of the game and what’s at stake is very huge. Who wouldn’t want to get ready for this?”
Who: Clemson (12-1) vs. Ohio State (11-1)
When: 7 p.m., Saturday
Where: Glendale, Ariz.
Line: OSU by 3
Deshaun Watson’s top five games
1. Jan. 11, 2016, vs. Alabama
It might seem a bit confounding that Watson’s top game came in defeat, but it would be difficult to top his performance in a loss to Alabama in the national championship game. Watson accounted for 478 of Clemson’s 550 yards against a Crimson Tide defense loaded with NFL talent. Passing: 30 of 47, 405 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT. Rushing: 20 for 73. Score: Alabama 45, Clemson 40.
2. Nov. 29, 2014, vs. South Carolina
This game wasn’t so much about gaudy numbers, but more about the circumstance. Watson played on a torn ACL and helped the Tigers end a five-game losing streak to their archrival by passing for two touchdowns and running for two more. Perhaps more than any of his performances, this one earned Watson a permanent and prominent position in Clemson football lore. Passing: 14 of 19 for 269 yards, 2 TDs. Rushing: 5 for 13, 2 TDs. Score: Clemson 35, South Carolina 17.
3. Sept. 27, 2014, vs. North Carolina
Watson made his debut as a starter in impressive fashion, setting 12 school records in a win against the Tar Heels in Death Valley. Watson threw for a school-record six touchdowns and was named National Freshman of the Week by multiple outlets. Passing: 27 of 36 for 435 yards, 6 TDs. Rushing: 11 for 28. Score: Clemson 50, North Carolina 35.
4. Oct. 31, 2015, at N.C. State
In what resembled a Wild West shootout, Watson had more bullets than anyone, passing for five touchdowns and running for a sixth at the Wolfpack’s Carter-Finley Stadium. Each of Watson’s touchdown passes covered 35 yards or more. Passing: 23 of 30 for 383 yards, 5 TDs. Rushing: 14 for 54, TD. Score: Clemson 56, N.C. State 41.
5. Nov. 26, 2016, vs. South Carolina
Watson capped an undefeated career against the Gamecocks by matching his school- and ACC-record with six touchdown passes, including three to Mike Williams, despite leaving the game with 4½ minutes left in the third quarter. Watson completed 81.2 percent of his passes and helped the Tigers to a school-record 40 first downs. Passing: 27 of 33 for 347 yards, 6 TDs, 1 INT. Rushing: 5 for 19 yards. Score: Clemson 56, South Carolina 7.
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