It was the wrong read, but Deshaun Watson made the best of it.
With Clemson already in front of NC State 14-0 and the ball placed at the Wolfpack 5-yard line, Watson thought the defensive back had converged on the running back so he pulled the ball and went around right end. But as he reached the three yard line, the freshman noticed his mistake. The defender was right there to make a play.
So what did he do? He hurdled him. Watson hurdled the helpless NC State defender for his third of four total touchdowns that afternoon as the Tigers walloped the Wolfpack two years ago in Death Valley, 41-0.
When Watson went back to the Clemson sideline, then offensive coordinator Chad Morris told him he did well, and Watson just smiled and said, “Coach, I’m having fun.”
Watson seems to have a lot fun at the Wolfpack expense. On that sunny splashed fall afternoon in 2014, he threw for 267 yards and two touchdowns, while also running for 62 yards and two more scores.
He did even better last year in Raleigh (N.C.) when he rushed for 54 yards and a score, while throwing for 383 yards and five touchdowns in a 56-41 victory.
“For whatever the reason, he has just played well (against them) and he has good players around him,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “You have to give a lot of credit to the offensive line and you have to give a lot of credit to the backs. If you dive into that, you probably had some receivers make some big plays and things like that.”
Swinney was right. Mike Williams made a diving catch for a 56-yard touchdown in 2014, and scored on another 31-yard pass on the next offensive possession. Last year, Watson threw touchdown passes to five different players … Hunter Renfrow for 57 yards, Charone Peake for 42 yards, Deon Cain for 40 yards, Zac Brooks for 35 yards and Ray Ray McCloud for 36 yards.
He also ran a touchdown in from 24 yards out.
“He has that type of potential in him each and every week,” Swinney said. “I think, you look at last year, we had some explosive plays. We had some one-on-one matchups and we won the matchup. That’s what this game comes down to at the end of the day. It comes down to matchups, execution and confidence.”
Watson’s confidence has to be high then coming into Saturday’s showdown with the Wolfpack in Death Valley. In his two games against NC State, he has completed 40 of 59 passes (68 percent) for 650 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions. He has also rushed for 116 more yards and scored three more touchdowns.
In two games, Watson has compiled 766 total yards and 10 touchdowns against the Wolfpack defense.
“That confidence comes from paying the price and putting the work in and the preparation. There is really nothing more than that,” Swinneys said. “He prepares with a purpose. He is a tremendous guy on and off the field. Again, he has good people around him, too.”
So will Watson be able to put up big numbers on the Wolfpack on Saturday? NC State comes into the game ranked No. 8 nationally in total defense (279.8), but they have shown some vulnerability in the passing game.
East Carolina threw for 297 yards on 33-of-43 passing with one touchdown and one interception against the ‘Pack on Sept. 10.
“They are a team that is confident in who they are. They are going to come in and try to beat us and play hard,” Watson said. “That’s what we expect.”
If NC State expects the same thing out of No. 3 Clemson, and especially Watson, then its defense could be in for a long afternoon.
Watson has been on fire as of late, throwing nine touchdown passes in wins over No. 7 Louisville and Boston College the last two weeks. Like NC State, both came in boasting about their top 10 defenses. The Tigers put up over 500 yards in both wins. Watson has thrown for a combined 576 yards in the two games.
For the season, Watson has completed 61 percent of his passes for 1,572 yards and 18 touchdowns, which leads the ACC.
“I have been getting better each and every week,” he said. “The grade I have been getting back from my quarterbacks coach, Coach (Brandon) Streeter, and watching film with him, I have been improving each and every week and this whole offense has too.
“That’s the good thing about us. We have yet to play our best ball, but yet we are improving each and every week.”