With less than 30 seconds to play in the first half of Clemson’s 54-0 win over Syracuse, backup quarterback Nick Schuessler made a throw that two years ago he would not have made – a 31-yard pass to wide receiver Mike Williams.
The last time Deshaun Watson left a game due to injury was when he tore his knee up at Georgia Tech on November 15, 2014. Schuessler eventually came into the game in relief of Cole Stoudt, who did not play well after Watson’s sudden exit from the game.
Schuessler, then a sophomore and still trying to grasp the offense on limited practice reps, was not ready either. After that game, the last time No. 2 Clemson lost a regular season game, Swinney said he would never been in this situation again, where there was such a significant drop off from the No. 1 to the No. 2 and 3 quarterbacks.
So when Schuessler came in for Watson on Saturday, after the Heisman Trophy Candidate bruised his right shoulder, no one was happier to see Schuessler make that 31-yard throw down field to Williams than Swinney. Well, except for Schuessler, of course.
“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 and (Artavis Scott), they make you look way better than you are.”
Williams ran a deep post on the boundary side of the field and Schuessler hit him right between the numbers and in between three defenders for the 31-yard gain that moved the football to the Syracuse 23. It’s a play that shows how far the graduate student has come since that cold November day in Atlanta two years ago.
“When Nick came in, he did his thing,” Cain said.
Cain, who had a career-high 125 yards on five catches, hooked up with Schuessler a couple of times. First it was a 29-yard pass down the sideline in which Schuessler dropped the pass perfectly over the inside shoulder and where only Cain could catch it. He later found the sophomore in the back of the end zone for an 18-yard touchdown that gave the Tigers a 44-0 lead at the time.
“We practice with all the time, and he always stays consistent. We really don’t have a drop if Nick is in there or Kelly (Bryant), who is a great quarterback, too. We have some ball players. We are comfortable with all of them,” Cain said.
The Clemson coaches are definitely comfortable with Schuessler out there, especially co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott.
“We always tell guys to be ready for your opportunity because the standard does not change,” Elliott said. “It does not matter if Deshaun is out there or if Nick is out there, that defense is expecting us to do our job which is to put drives together and put points on the board.”
Schuessler was responsible for putting 21 of Clemson’s 54 points on the boards. He also had a five-yard touchdown pass to Artavis Scott. The Grayson, Georgia native finished the afternoon 11-of-17 for 177 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
“All the credit goes to Coach (Brandon) Streeter,” Elliott said. “He does an unbelievable job of having those guys prepared … You are just seeing (Schuessler) confidence rise. He came into this year, starting back with fall camp, with a greater sense of urgency. He has put in the work and Coach Streeter has presented the opportunities for him to learn and it was good for him to get out there and have success and seeing it all coming to fruition.”