By Will Vandervort.
Imagine this scenario.
Cole Stoudt starts Saturday’s 8 p.m. game in Tallahassee, Fla., against top-ranked Florida State and the first two drives for No. 22 Clemson fizzles out.
In comes freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson, who engineers a long scoring drive that gets the Tigers’ offense rolling. Now head coach Dabo Swinney has a decision to make. Does he bring back his senior quarterback, who he has proclaimed to be his starter since last April, who does he bring in the five-star freshman that has done nothing but look in impressive in his first two games in a Clemson uniform?
According to what Swinney told the media during Tuesday’s press conference, he’ll go with the “hot hand” and if that happens to be Watson then so be it.
“Absolutely! I think that is managing the game and making good decisions with your personnel as you go through the flow of the game,” Swinney said.
But that’s not what happened at Georgia. So what has changed?
Against Georgia in the season opener, after leading a touchdown drive on the opening drive of the game, the Stoudt led-offense had three straight drives that ended with a three-and-out. Then Watson made his Clemson debut on the next possession and led the Tigers on a 6-play, 78-yard scoring drive that ended with a 30-yard strike to Charone Peake for a touchdown.
On the next Clemson possession, Stoudt was back in the game.
After the Tigers’ loss to Georgia, Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris were adamant that was all part of the plan, and it probably was. But that planned changed a little bit in the South Carolina State game. Watson played a little more in the first and second quarter and was in on back-to-back possessions in the third quarter, which both ended in Clemson touchdowns.
In fact, five of the freshman’s seven drives through the first two games ended with a Clemson touchdown. Now Swinney says he is going with the hot hand.
“I’m really glad we are having this conversation because first of that tells you have a really special freshman because when he has played, he has played really, really well,” Swinney said. “We expected him to do that. We coached him to do and that is why recruited him. That part is great.
“But just because you see a freshman play well, now all of sudden, nobody wants to give the other guy credit. We have to evaluate everything.”
But no one is saying Stoudt has not played well, it’s just Watson has looked better with his fewer opportunities than the veteran. He has completed more deep balls down field and has led the offense on as many touchdown drives with fewer chances.
Now the question is, do the Tigers need him to play in order to beat the Seminoles.
“I don’t know. I have no idea,” Swinney said. “I just know we are going to play him because he deserves to play and we think he brings something to the table that is a little different. We are going to find that out. I really don’t know.”