By Ed McGranahan.
As the legend and lore of these games are reshuffled and recounted, this one should find a place near the top because order was restored and only
in fairytales and video games does a freshman quarterback gut through four quarters on one healthy leg and beat his archrival.
From the moment he stepped on a college football field for the first time and directed a touchdown drive at Georgia, there was a feeling
Deshaun Watson was special. Whether he should have been Clemson’s starter all season will remain fodder for bar fights and message board
On a Saturday afternoon in Death Valley, bearing the hope of Clemson Nation on his shoulders, Watson passed for 269 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for two more touchdowns on a torn anterior collateral ligament (ACL) in his left leg that – once upon a time – ended careers and now at least ends seasons.
Wearing a brace that Coach Dabo Swinney said “served as the ACL,” Watson gave a piece of himself to this series which predates Teddy Roosevelt and motor cars. When the brace interfered with the circulation in his lower leg, Watson came out of the game twice in the first half costing Clemson some of the rhythm. The plan was obvious from the outset, to limit him largely to throwing but thoroughbreds can’t be contained.
With Watson at the helm all but a handful of plays and redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman having a career game, Clemson added to a 21-10 halftime lead with touchdowns in the third and fourth quarter to give Swinney only his second win over Carolina coach Steve Spurrier and the Clemson seniors their only win over the Gamecocks.
When the game was over and the 82,720 vacated Death Valley the puzzling penalty on the onside kick wasn’t an issue, nor the dropped pass that
might have been a touchdown or the bogus roughing the passer call on Stephone Anthony – though that may ache through first half of a bowl
game – or the fumble officials ignored.
The Streak was history, and Watson and Gallman and Artavis Scott are about to write a new chapter with a new class of linemen Swinney
recently said would put the program on another planet.
Emotions flooded the Clemson locker room, for the seniors who won more games in four seasons than ever, for Swinney whose father has been
hospitalized, for the Clemson fans who lingered in that sweet air. James Davis, whose younger brother was in the other locker room, was again
Clemson Tiger without apology, walking off the field with the team in his No. 1. Trustee president David Wilkins witnessed the locker room
“It was everything, a plethora,” said senior defensive tackle Grady Jarrett of his personal reaction, his eyes red and shiny, “The final
game, the last time riding the buses, the last time down the hill, the last game in Death Valley.
“I definitely tried to take it all in,” he said. “It’ll be something I’ll remember and cherish forever.”
Clemson totaled 13 tackles for loss by nine players including four sacks of Dylan Thompson, who broke Clemson hearts two years ago with a clutch performance. Swinney said he told Vic Beasley he needed to play like a Lombardi finalist and a Bednarik finalist. Beasley had two sacks in his final home game.
Clemson finished its schedule by winning eight of its last nine games and Steve Spurrier, who’s rarely at a loss for words, didn’t have much
to say after the eighth.
“Today was just our day,” Swinney said.
Swinney said Watson would have surgery on the knee after the bowl game and should be back by summer. That should give Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel plenty of work during spring. A herd of promising, new offensive linemen, many of whom are scheduled to enroll in January, are also going to see a lot of work.
Regardless of how they’re progressing, there will be frequent questions about Watson even if he’s not practicing, because it didn’t take Vince
Lombardi to tell us the young man is special and front row seats the next two or three years should be at a premium.
“We need to enjoy this one,” Swinney said, “while we’ve got him here.”
Later he was asked if this was emotional a game as he’d experienced.
“Yup, it was,” he said with a voice barely above a soft croak. Asked why, “You live with this one every day.”