Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has said he expects quarterback Deshaun Watson, who suffered a bruised shoulder against Syracuse, to start in second-ranked Clemson’s game against Pittsburgh on Saturday.
But if for some reason Watson can’t play, backup quarterback Nick Schuessler is ready to step in again.
“Absolutely,” Schuessler said on Tuesday when asked if he is prepared to be the starter if need be. “I prepare every week like I’m the starter, so this week is going to be no different for me, whether I’m called to play zero plays, five plays or 50 plays. I’ll be ready to go.”
Watson injured his right shoulder in the second quarter versus Syracuse when he was tackled by a pair of defenders and landed on the shoulder. Watson was replaced by Schuessler and sat out for the rest of the contest, though Clemson said he could have played if necessary.
Swinney said on Tuesday that Watson looked “great” last night and the Tigers have a practice plan in place for him, but he didn’t give specifics.
Meanwhile, Schuessler said he has taken first-team reps in practice this week, but no more than any other week.
“No more than normal,” Schuessler said. “Coach (Brandon) Streeter does a good job rotating, making sure everybody is getting reps with certain receivers, certain groups, linemen, running backs and all that.”
“It’s been the same as any normal week,” Schuessler added. “We all prepare the same exact way. This week has been no different. A lot of film study coming in, trying to find those details. Practice is the same as it’s always been.”
After entering the game in lieu of Watson, Schuessler completed 11-of-17 passes for 177 yards and two touchdowns. Watson went 13-of-16 for 169 yards and a pair of touchdowns before leaving.
Saturday’s game was the first time in Clemson history that two quarterbacks had at least 160 yards passing for the Tigers.
“I was happy to get out there and have the playbook wide open,” Schuessler said. “In the past, I’ve usually gone in with the games well under control. That game was probably well under control, as well, but it was good to finally get out there and cut it loose. It was a lot of fun. Good for my confidence.”
Schuessler came into the game with around two minutes left in the first half. On fourth and 4 from Syracuse’s 29-yard line, Schuessler threw a 24-yard pass to Jordan Leggett to move Clemson near the goal line. Two plays later, he hit Artavis Scott for a 5-yard touchdown to give the Tigers a 30-0 lead heading into halftime.
Schuessler said directing the two-minute touchdown drive was his best in-game experience at Clemson.
“Usually you see Deshaun go out there every Saturday right before halftime, and we always get a score,” Schuessler said. “For me, I haven’t had a game-like two-minute drill, and it was good for me to go in there and get that because those are hard to practice.”
Later, in the third quarter, Schuessler slung his second touchdown pass of the game to Deon Cain. It marked the senior’s first multi-score game.
Schuessler filled in for Watson at a moment’s notice and was the steady presence he’s been throughout his career, a testament to his preparation and poised temperament under any circumstance.
For Schuessler, it was all about cutting it loose, and he’s ready to cut it loose again on Saturday if his number is called.
“For me, especially being a fifth-year senior and spending a majority of my time behind Deshaun, there’s no point in me putting all this time and effort in in the offseason and preparation to just go out there and play timid or scared,” Schuessler said. “So, for me, it was just going out there and cutting it loose.”