Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was giving Deshaun Watson a hard time last week about his third quarter interception, which NC State’s Mike Stevens returned 28 yards for a touchdown, the first pick-six thrown in Watson’s Clemson career.
And while Swinney was poking at the Tigers’ signal-caller in good fun, Watson wasn’t enjoying it quite as much. Stevens’ interception just wasn’t the first interception thrown by Watson in his Clemson career that was returned for a touchdown, it was the first one period.
“It was the first one in his whole life,” Swinney said on Tuesday. “He was not too happy about that.”
But in the moment that it happened, Watson shrugged it off as if it had happened before. From there, he went back out and set a Clemson record for completions in a game with 39 on 52 attempts in leading the Tigers to an overtime victory.
“He had 14 straight completions after that pick-six. That’s pretty impressive, but that does not surprise me,” Swinney said.
When it comes to Deshaun Watson and what he has been able to do in his short time at Clemson, nothing is too surprising. Arguably the greatest quarterback to ever put on a Clemson uninform, Watson returns to the scene where he introduced himself to college football fans when the third-ranked Tigers visit No. 13 Florida State on Saturday in Tallahassee, Florida.
It was two years ago when Watson came off the bench for a struggling Cole Stoudt and completed 19 of 28 passes for 266 yards in nearly leading Clemson to its greatest road win in school history. The Tigers ultimately lost in overtime to the Seminoles, but it had nothing to with Watson, who was a true freshman at the time.
Since then, Watson has broken 39 Clemson records, including six career records, 31 season records and two game records. He is also 25-2 as a starter, and his .926 winning percentage is the best in Clemson history.
But of all of those accomplishments, the one play Swinney says describes Watson as a player, more than any other, is the tackle he made on NC State’s Shawn Boone following a Mike Williams fumble.
With the game tied, 10-10, midway through the third quarter, Clemson drove the ball to the Wolfpack 21 when Watson found Williams long the far sideline. The junior wideout broke a tackle and used one hand to keep himself up as he started running towards the end zone. However, Dravious Wright stripped the football from Williams grip and Boone picked it up and raced 70 yards up the sideline, where Watson got under two NC State players and took them out. That allowed tight end Jordan Leggett to tackle Boone out of bounds at the Clemson 26, saving a touchdown.
It turned out to be an even bigger play than that because NC State went three-and-out on the following series and defensive tackle Christian Wilkins blocked Kyle Bambard’s 42-yard attempt.
“It’s not just Deshaun. If you want to know what this team is made off, if you want to know what this team is all about, just watch that play,” Swinney said. “Watch Jordan Leggett come from the backside. He cannot run any faster. Watch Ray Ray (McCloud). Watch Trevion (Thompson). Watch Deshaun Watson.
“Do you want to know why we win? Do you want to know why we are successful? Just watch that play… Watch Deshaun Watson and watch him go and create a dog pile, just throw his body right into two guys, take them out, create a dog pile so Leggett could make that tackle. That’s why we win. That’s why we win. We have a group of guys that are completely solid out. We are not perfect. We are not robots. They are just human. They are people.”
Swinney says Watson has everything else, but that play against NC State, “that comes from inside. That is something you can’t coach.”
“That’s pretty special to be a part of it and to watch that effort,” the Clemson coach said.