ORLANDO, Fla. — When No. 3 Clemson needed to make a play in Saturday’s 42-35 victory over No. 18 Virginia Tech there was little doubt on who was going to make it.
Deshaun Watson made several of what only can be described as “Heisman Moments” as he willed his Clemson team to a second straight ACC Championship at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium. The quarterback not only threw for three touchdowns and rushed for two more, but he made one spectacular play after another.
His fifth touchdown came on a zone-read concept where he faked like he was about to run and then threw to a wide open Hunter Renfrow who walked into the end zone untouched. On that same drive, he stayed in the pocket despite pressure and threw perfect passes to both Renfrow for 31 yards and Deon Cain for 30 that moved the Tigers into scoring position.
On that drive, Watson completed 4-of-5 passes for 82 yards.
“We have been saying this ever since he walked onto campus. He is an unbelievable talent football wise, mentally and physically,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “He never gets rattled in the big moments and he plays his best when the game is on the line and when there is the most pressure.”
On that final scoring drive, Watson drove the Tigers 75 yards in eight plays, taking 4:07 off the clock. Most importantly it came after the Hokies had trimmed what was a 21-point second-half lead to seven points following Jerod Evans five-yard touchdown run with 11:35 left in the game.
“He had five touchdowns so he was pretty consistent all night long,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “But I tell you what, right there at the end of the game when you’ve got to have the first down … he went and got it to put us in victory formation, that’s about as good as it gets right there.”
The play Swinney was referring to was Watson’s 11-yard run that sealed the Tigers’ victory. Following Virginia Tech’s next to last timeout with 1:04 left in the game, Watson, on a designed quarterback run, ran 11 yards up the middle on second-and-five to ice the win.
Watson finished the game with 85 yards on 17 carries, including touchdown runs of three and two yards.
Swinney said he could not just name one “Heisman Moment” on Saturday because his quarterback had so many. However, if there was one, it was his 30-yard completion to Cain when Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster brought pressure. Watson hung in and delivered a perfectly thrown back-shoulder fade to Cain down the near sideline.
“They brought a split front and they brought the box, and then Deon did a good job of bearing the box up and just slide into the weak side,” Watson said. “I knew I had pressure from the field, so I just kind of rode to my left because it was just about time to get Deon Cain off the release, and I just gave him a shot.
“I always tell my receivers, whenever we have man or any situation, I’m going to give you guys a shot. You all are going to be special. You made the play. And that’s what type of play it is. We just always say, give him a shot. He’s going to go up and get it. And that’s all my receivers. So it’s a blessing to have those guys on my team. They make me look good.”
On the next play, Watson found Renfrow for what turned out to be the eventual game-winning touchdown.
“He made big throws all night long, just critical plays. The throw to Deon is just a tremendous play and great effort by Deon as well. The play to on the last touchdown to Renfrow, zone-read concept and, you know, he read it out and then he felt the defense support from the perimeter so he took the screen and we walk in for a touchdown. I mean, there were a lot of moments,” Swinney said. “He rushed for 80 something yards, averaged five yards a carry. He’s been unbelievably consistent, you know. This is a guy that since October or November and now in December, there ain’t anyone better than this guy right here.”
After throwing six touchdown passes last week in the Tigers’ rout of rival South Carolina, Watson followed it with five touchdown responsibilities in the ACC Championship Game, with a College Football Playoff berth on the line.
Watson finished the night completing 23-of-34 passes with touchdown passes to tight end Jordan Leggett for 21 and 10 yards and then the 15-yard toss to Renfrow. He had 373 total yards, including 288 through the air.
For his performance, Watson was voted the ACC Championship Game’s Most Valuable Player for a second year in a row.
“I think if there is anything that warrants him being in New York that is it. He has the heart of a champion,” Elliott said. “He embraces the opportunity, where some guys run from the opportunity and do not want to take the last shot. He wants the ball in his hand. He is going to show up and he has proven it time-and-time again. It is a testament to who he is as a person and as a competitor. That is why we believe he is the best player in the country.”