When evaluating Deshaun Watson’s performance after each game, Clemson’s coaching staff charts the number of “poor decisions” that he made.
On Saturday in second-ranked Clemson’s loss to Pittsburgh, Clemson’s offense ran 95 plays and Watson threw 70 passes. Altogether, Watson made just four poor decisions, a very low number considering the volume of attempts.
However, the poor decisions were very costly, too, as three of them were interceptions, including two in the red zone and one at the goal line late in the fourth quarter with Clemson in position to take control of the game.
“That’s a tough defense to play in what they do defensively, and you have to have a great decision maker out there, and I thought he made some great decisions,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said on Monday. “There were 95 plays, and we’re talking about four out of 95 plays. Just unfortunately the couple that he made mistakes on were very costly.”
Though Watson set an ACC single-game record with 580 passing yards and a school record with 52 completions, it is the mistakes Watson made that has received most of the attention in the aftermath of Clemson’s first regular-season loss since the 2014 season and first loss at home since 2013.
And though Watson has passed for 3,077 yards and 27 touchdowns while completing 66.2 percent of his passes in 10 games this season, it is his 13 interceptions that have been focused on and scrutinized the most.
If Watson wasn’t Watson, then the outlook would likely be different. But Watson set the bar so high during Clemson’s historic 2015 season — a bar that even he has struggled to measure up to at times in 2016.
“I think it’s very easy to pick out the negatives,” Scott said. “Ultimately what it is, he was on a very high pedestal going into this year, and rightfully so because of everything he did last year. But that doesn’t mean he was going to come out and be perfect. None of our coaches are perfect, none of our players are perfect.”
“That’s the shame of it,” Scott continued, “because you go back and watch the video, there were four or five throws he made where I go that’s an NFL throw right there. So yes, there are some negatives he’s got to clean up, but there are a lot more positives than negatives.”
Nevertheless the negatives have overshadowed the positives for Watson this season, and the narrative has told a tale of a quarterback that isn’t meeting expectations established by his success a season ago.
However, Scott pointed out that through ten games this season, Watson has 39 more completions, 476 more yards, four more touchdowns, one more touchdown responsible for and 254 more yard of total offense than he did through 10 games last season.
He also pointed out that Watson has thrown five more interceptions in part because he has thrown 78 more passes.
“He’s done a lot of good things this year,” Scott said. “He’s done really, really well and handled himself really well. Has he made a couple of bad throws? Absolutely, and it just happened this game that they were in the red zone and cost us points.
“But I think we have to be careful how high we put these guys on a pedestal and what standard we hold him to and all that. Deshaun, he’s a special player, and he didn’t lose the game for us. We had opportunities, and a lot of guys had opportunities to win that game and do a few things different. But he’s the quarterback, and that comes with the territory.”
Watson holds himself to a high standard, too, and there’s no doubt he would like to have a couple of throws from Saturday’s game back.
But it’s in the past, so for Watson it’s all about moving forward and not repeating the miscues next time.
“There’s a great chance he’s going to go down as the best quarterback in the history of our football program, so we’ve got a lot of confidence in him,” Scott said. “He’s a guy that will learn and has learned, and I promise you there’s no one that will critique himself and learn better than him.”