AUBURN, Ala. — Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium was not the start Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson envisioned for his Heisman Campaign in 2016.
Watson had an up-and-down performance in second-ranked Clemson’s 19-13 victory over Auburn as the junior completed just 19 of 34 passes for 248 yards. He threw one touchdown pass, but was also intercepted once as well.
Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele did a great job bottling up the Tigers’ signal caller for much of the night. Watson, who was the first 4,000-1,000-yard player in in the history of college football, rushed for 21 yards on 11 carries.
Watson said he played decent.
“It was good. I missed a lot of throws. That’s going to happen. No one is perfect so there are a lot of good things we are going to work on and fix,” he said afterwards.
After an off-season in which he and the Clemson offense were hyped to put up PlayStation type numbers, Watson struggled against Steele’s defense, missing high on several passes and throwing behind his intended target at times as well.
Some wondered if Watson was a little too uncomfortable in the season opener and was feeling a lot of pressure as the frontrunner to win the Heisman Trophy this year.
“No. I thought early he missed a slant. And made one throw to Ray Ray inside that probably was not a good throw,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “I thought he did fine.”
With Watson struggling, Auburn stymied Clemson’s offense, holding it to 399 total yards, including just 166 in the second half.
“They played a lot odd fronts and a lot of over hangs. They did a good job with (Carl) Lawson,” Swinney said. “They played a lot of bear tonight. But got some big runs and 100 and something yards by (Wayne Gallman).
“You have to give something up. When you are playing all of that single safety and one-on-one coverage, that opens up opportunities and that’s why we had a guy with 174 yards. We are not just going to run our head into a wall.”
Wide receiver Mike Williams was the one with 174 yards as he returned to college football after an injury to his neck that sidelined him for all of last season. The redshirt junior had a team-high nine catches.
In the end, though, when it mattered most, Watson played like the Heisman candidate he is meant to be. After Auburn cut the lead to 13-6 with a Daniel Carlson 32-yard field goal with 13:46 to play in the game, Watson led the Tigers on a 10-play, 75-yard drive which ended with a 16-yard touchdown pass in the back corner of the end zone to Hunter Renfrow.
“We had to go earn it,” Watson said. “We left a lot of points on the field and we will learn from it.”
— Photo Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports