Deshaun Watson was in the zone. He was perhaps off to his best start of any game this season as he threw two first half touchdowns and ran for another in No. 2 Clemson’s 54-0 victory over Syracuse on Saturday.
In front 23-0 with just under four minutes to play, the Tigers were driving for another score when Watson broke containment on a third-and-10 play from the Syracuse 48-yard line and ran 13 yards for the first down.
However, when he got tackled by Syracuse’s Daivon Ellison and Rodney Williams he came down on his right shoulder the wrong way. A play later, throwing a pass to Tavien Feaster that went straight into the ground, Watson pointed to his shoulder and took himself out of the game.
“I just felt like I needed to do it,” Watson said.
Watson was diagnosed with a bruised shoulder and did not return to the game, though Clemson officially said he could have come back had the Tigers needed him to. But that was the thing. They did not need him to.
Nick Schuessler came off the bench and threw a 24-yard pass to tight end Jordan Leggett on a fourth-and-four play from the Syracuse 29, and then a play later he hit Artavis Scott in the end zone from five yards out to increase the lead to 30-0.
“I have been standing on that sideline for way too long to not go in there and cut it loose and play with no regrets,” Schuessler said. “The confidence I had today was just the result of the coaches preparing me, the players around me having confidence in me and when you get to go in there and throw to receivers like Deon (Cain), Mike (Williams) and (Scott), they make you look way better than you are.
“It is such a team effort and the team believing in me and being able to rally around me was big for me and I was able to go in there and cut it loose and I felt good about it.”
Schuessler got the Tigers (9-0, 6-0 ACC) going again when they got the ball back just before halftime. In 30 seconds, he drove them 55 yards in five plays, thanks to passes of 24 and 31 yards to Williams, that moved the ball to the Syracuse 23.
Though Greg Huegel missed the 40-yard field goal with three seconds to play in the half, Schuessler did what he had to do to put his team in position to score.
“It was good for me in a game-like situation to be able to make those throws with confidence,” Schuessler said.
Schuessler came out in the second half and picked up where he left off. He guided the Tigers on a 44-yard drive to start the third quarter, which running back Wayne Gallman capped with a five-yard touchdown. He later threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Cain for a 44-0 Clemson lead with 1:26 to play in the third quarter.
“When Deshaun got banged up, we felt we had control of the game and he was ready to come back in the second half, but Schuessler did a great job stepping up today. He set a great example for his teammates,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “It’s hard to continue to have to prepare each and every week like you’re the starter. It’s a hard thing to do, but that’s what it’s all about. I’m so proud of Nick for going in there and making some great throws.
“We kept on clicking and it was an outstanding win.”
And it was outstanding play by Schuessler, who finished the game 11-of-17 for 177 yards. With Watson’s 169 yards on 13-of-16 passing, the two became the first quarterbacks in Clemson history to throw for 169 or more yards in the same game.
“It was good to get on the same page with those receivers,” Schuessler said. “We try to do a good job in practice, getting the timing down so Deshaun (Watson) is not always throwing to the ones. He throws to the twos a little and I throw with the ones a little bit to try and get in the rotation.
“It was good to get some live work with the guys and it was beneficial for me for the rest of the season.”
–Photo Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports