When he walked off the field at Bobby Stadium following an unexplainable injury to his knee, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson thought he would simply go in, get checked out and then be back on the field.
In his mind, his knee was fine.
“I did not think I did anything serious when I walked off the field. I thought I was going to be able to go back out there and play,” the junior said on Monday as the third-ranked Tigers get set to return to the scene in which Watson tore his ACL on Thursday.
But once Clemson team trainer Danny Poole and the people at Georgia Tech looked at the results, they told Watson he was not going back in.
The junior was told he had seriously damaged his knee, and his day was over. Watson was so depressed about the news he didn’t even follow the game while he was sitting in the training room.
“I was not in the mood,” he said. “I was kind of hurt and in shock about what they were saying about my knee.”
It was a devastating blow for Watson who had worked so hard to get back on the field after breaking a bone in his throwing hand against Louisville a month earlier. He also had his family and friends there, as well as those who watched him play at nearby Gainesville High School, a 30-minute drive from Atlanta and Bobby Dodd Stadium.
“I have flashbacks about that play,” Watson said. “I just remember pretty much that whole morning from warm ups to getting ready to play. Coming back from a hand injury, I was excited to play and then in that first quarter I went down.”
Watson went down with Clemson leading, 3-0, and driving for another touchdown, when inexplicitly his knee blew out as he made a cut at the Georgia Tech 14-yard line. The Tigers had already totaled 77 yards on their three drives with Watson at quarterback and there was little doubt they were going to score a touchdown before his injury.
In fact, it looked like he was going to score on that exact play because the middle of the field was wide open. It was apparent Clemson was the better team with Watson at quarterback, and it felt as if it was going to win the game.
“I will not say we would have lost. I never want to lose. I’m a competitor,” Watson said. “Who knows what would have happened.”
This much we do know. Backup Quarterback Cole Stoudt threw an interception two plays after Watson left the game that was returned 85 yards for a touchdown. From that point on, the Yellow Jackets cruised to a 28-6 victory, while returning another interception for a touchdown as well.
Clemson totaled just 113 yards of offense after Watson left the game.
“It is tough because you want to be out there with the guys. All the work throughout the summer and over the course of the week preparing for the game, and that moment, you get knocked out,” Watson said. “Every competitor wants to finish the game no matter if they are hurt or not, but you have to cheer the guy who is next, and hope they can to do the best they can do.”