There is no doubt Deshaun Watson will go down as the greatest player in the history of Clemson football.
He owns just about every game, season and career passing record at Clemson, and this past Monday night he did something that has not been done at Clemson in 35 years – he helped the Tigers win a national championship.
With just two minutes and one second left on the clock and down three points against one of the best defenses in the history of college football, Watson engineered a drive for the ages, which he capped with a two-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow with one second left, lifting Clemson to a 35-31 victory in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
“I marvel at the way he came back this year and played,” said Archie Manning during a teleconference call on Thursday announcing Watson as the 2016 Manning Award recipient. “Especially the way he played in the playoffs, and especially in the second half of that great football game the other night.”
Watson, who became the first person to win the Manning Award twice, completed 36-of-56 passes for a championship record 420 yards and three touchdowns, while running for 43 more yards and another touchdown against the Crimson Tide.
On the game-winning drive, Watson completed 6-of-7 passes for 50 yards, hitting Mike Williams for 24 yards on a nice grab by the junior and then 17 yards to tight end Jordan Leggett, who made perhaps the catch of the night with a twisting, diving reception that moved the ball to the Alabama nine.
Two plays later, and six seconds showing on the clock, Watson rolled to his right and hit a wide open Renfrow in the right side of the end zone with the two-yard pass.
“It was special,” Watson said when he was asked to think back to the game-winning drive. “It was something we always work on throughout practice. Throughout the course of the year, we had multiple drives that ended at halftime or at the end of the game situations where we had to have it with the final drive to go and take the lead or put the game away so it was not a surprise to us.
“It’s not like it was something we have never done or were not used to. We were prepared for it. When you are prepared for an opportunity and that moment, then you will embrace it and you will achieve it and good things will happen.”
The good thing for Watson, he is the quarterback of a national championship team, and is the winner of the Manning Award for a second straight year.
“It is always good to be able to have your work noticed and to be able to have your name attached to these great awards,” he said. “It is a privilege, especially to win some of these awards twice like the Manning Award and the Davey O’Brien Award.”
For the season, the Gainesville, Georgia native completed 388-of-579 passes for 4,593 yards and 41 touchdowns while also rushing for 629 yards and nine touchdowns. He ranked in the top four in the nation in Total QBR, passing yards and passing touchdowns. In addition to the Manning Award, he was selected as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy and won the Davey O’Brien Award, the Johnny Unitas Award and the Bobby Bowden Award.
—Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports