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Watson at his best when it matters most

Oct 29, 2016; Tallahassee, FL, USA;  Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) looks to throw the ball during the game against the Florida State Seminoles at Doak Campbell Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Melina Vastola-USA TODAY Sports

Dabo Swinney says Deshaun Watson is a victim of his own success this year.

Though Clemson’s quarterback is still considered one of the top five players in the country, his head coach believes Watson is being judged based on the gaudy numbers he put last in leading the second-ranked Tigers to the national title game.

Swinney says Watson is having a better season, overall, than he did a year ago.

He definitely had a good October. In his four October games, Watson completed 101-of-151 passes (67 percent) for 1,332 yards and 13 touchdowns. He had an efficiency rating of 161.5, while averaging 333 yards per game, which was seventh best in the country.

The junior also averaged 385 total yards per game, third best in the country. He had 413 total yards against NC State and 430 yards against Florida State.

“There is no question. He is a better player,” Swinney said. “I kind of laugh because I guess he is a victim of his own success. That’s on the people that think he has not played as well, and this and that. That is laughable to me.”

No one is laughing in the fourth quarter, though. Watson is 36-for-59 for 460 yards, six touchdowns and one interception in the final 15 minutes of games this season. He has had at least one touchdown drive in four of the eight games, including game-winning drives against Louisville and Florida State.

In fact, the Tigers (8-0, 5-0 ACC) trailed both Louisville and Florida State by eight points in the fourth quarter. Watson also threw a game-winning touchdown pass in overtime to beat NC State.

“This guy has been clutch. He is not a robot. He will make a mistake and he will miss a throw here and there, but there is nobody out there who doesn’t,” Swinney said. “It’s what he does do, and that is what I look at. It is unbelievable how he has led this team. His leadership has been incredible.

“His poise…it is not a big deal to take the ball with three minutes and twenty three seconds and go take the air out of it at Jordan Hare in the opening game? That’s kind of a lost drive that no one talks about, and he took his team right now the field.”

Against No. 7 Louisville, Watson took the Tigers 85 yards in eight plays to lead them to victory thanks to a 31-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Leggett. Two weeks later, he makes a big third-down throw in overtime against NC State to extend the drive, and then fired a 10-yard pass to wide receiver Artavis Scott a few plays later for the game-winner.

Against No. 22 Florida State, Watson led Clemson to 17-fourth quarter points, including another game-winning drive—this time it was 75 yards—which he capped with a 34-yard pass to Leggett.

“The Louisville game and the drives there…the 85-yard drive in that game and then obviously (at Florida State) the other night. He has just been there…the overtime…it is just amazing. He throws a pick six against NC State, but then comes back and throws 14 straight completions. He is just unbelievable. He just has a toughness to him and a poise and a leadership quality that is very uncommon.”

For his career in the fourth quarter, Watson has completed 103-of-153 passes (67.3 percent) for 1,277 yards, 13 touchdowns and just one interception.

“It is just hard to describe until you experience it. He is special,” Swinney said.

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