After throwing two interceptions against Troy in probably what was the worst game he has played in his career, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson came out and said it was time to have fun again. And though his teammates still seem to be tight in certain situations and games this year, their quarterback was not.
If you have not notice, Deshaun Watson is having fun, and despite what people are saying, he is having a pretty good year, too. A really good year if you ask me. Granted, he has missed on some long balls that last season he was connecting on, but you have to look at his entire body of work, not just one aspect.
Watson is on pace to have an even better season—from a passing standpoint—than he had last season. Through the first seven games in 2015, Watson completed 131-of-189 passes for 1,153 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. This season, he has completed 164-of-258 passes for 1,950 yards, 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Keep in mind his interceptions at this point are about the same, though Watson has thrown 69 more passes this season through the first seven games.
Yet, there is a perception out there that Watson is not playing well, and though I understand where it is coming from due to the fact Clemson has not played well as a team, I cannot understand why people cannot separate Watson’s individual performances from his team’s.
ESPN College Football Live host Molly McGrath asked analyst David Pollack, Desmond Howard and Paul Finebaum on Tuesday’s show, “Why has Deshaun Watson struggled this year and can he breakout in the second half of the season?”
Pollack said it is because he is turning the football over and has made some big mistakes, while Howard thinks “his mechanics have been way off this first half of the season. I think it is because he has been pressing a lot, trying to duplicate what he did a year ago when he was just going out there having fun and playing.”
Howard’s wrong though, and Watson’s stats back me up.
Again, since he admitted after the Troy game he was not enjoying the moments like he should, Watson has picked things up the last five weeks. He has completed 69 percent of his last 171 passes for 1,410 yards, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Let’s keep in mind, of the five interceptions, two were on his receivers. Mike Williams ran the wrong route on what would have been a touchdown pass in the second quarter against Georgia Tech, while Ray Ray McCloud let a pass thrown perfectly to him against Louisville bounce off his chest and into the hands of a Cardinals’ receiver.
Again, Watson is being punished by what his teammates has done. You could charge two more of his eight interceptions to his receivers as well. So I ask this, is Watson as turnover prone or making as many critical mistakes as Pollack and Howard charge him with?
The good news for Watson and the third-ranked Tigers is that they are still 7-0 as they head to Tallahassee, Florida this week to take on No. 13 Florida State. Also, Watson still has an opportunity to cast some positive light into his Heisman Trophy candidacy.
“It starts Saturday in Tallahassee. This is such a great opportunity for him to finally move forward,” Finebaum said. “I think he will, and assuming Clemson gets past FSU, I think they are going to have a pretty interesting and easier path the rest of the way.”
Which means Watson will have an opportunity to put up some big numbers.
“The Heisman mantra is ‘The games in November are the games they remember,’” Howard said.
Howard is right. Look at the way last year ended. Watson finished the last eight games in 2015 with 3,324 total yards, while totaling 28 touchdowns – that is a 415.9 yards and 3.5 touchdowns per game average.
“I do think he has the type of talent that he can come back to the Deshaun Watson form that we saw a year ago, and he can bounce back and have a fantastic second half of the season,” Howard said.
From a total yards and total touchdowns standpoint, Watson is just under last year’s record pace of 5,209 yards, which averaged out to 347.2 yards per game. This year, he already has 2,229 yards, which averages out to 318.4 yards per game.
With that said, Watson averaged 276.4 yards per game through first seven last year. Meaning he is averaging 42 more total yards per game this year than last year at this time.
And though Finebaum was talking about LSU running back Leonard Fournette’s chances to get back in the Heisman conversation, what he said applies to Watson as well as we head down the stretch.
“I’m talking out of school here, and I’m sure I will not make any friends, but the Heisman Electors are not the smartest bunch of guys in any room. I mean, they are follow the leader. This is not 1950 or ’60 when it was preordained to what plaque arts were put out before the season. It’s a late vote and it is about what you do late,” Finebaum said.
With Florida State coming up this Saturday in a nationally televised game, plus the possibility of playing in an ACC Championship Game, which will also be televised nationally, the last weekend before the Heisman votes are due, Watson has the opportunity to prove that sometimes perception is not reality.