When he came to Clemson in 2014, Deshaun Watson promised the Tigers would not lose to South Carolina why he was enrolled at Clemson.
He kept his word.
The Tigers went 3-0 against the Gamecocks with the now Houston Texans’ quarterback behind center, including a 56-7 victory at Death Valley in 2016. However, back in 2014, many wondered if Watson was going to even play against the Gamecocks in his freshman year.
Watson had suffered a severe knee injury a couple of weeks before at Georgia Tech and his status for the state’s big game was in doubt all week leading up to the game. Rumors had circulated he was going to give it a shot against the Gamecocks, but no one knew how effective he was going to be.
The Clemson faithful was concerned to say the least. South Carolina had won the previous five games in the series under former head coach Steve Spurrier and everyone feared that without Watson the Tigers were once again going to fall to their most hated rival.
Granted the Gamecocks’ defense was not very good in 2014, but neither was Georgia Tech’s or Georgia State’s, yet those two teams held Clemson under 150 passing yards and a combined 34 points.
“Deshaun is special. He really is. He is a winner,” former Clemson offensive coordinator now Arkansas head coach Chad Morris said at the time. “I think the future is so bright for that young man. Obviously, we are a different team when he is in there.”
After injuring his left knee against Georgia Tech, Watson told head coach Dabo Swinney and Morris he wanted to play against the Gamecocks. He wanted to finish the season for his teammates and then have surgery to repair his knee.
It was a tough call for Swinney and Morris, but the training staff confirmed to them he could do no more damage to his knee, which they knew was a torn ACL.
Clemson tried to keep the fact that Watson had torn his ACL out of the news and did not confirm the status of his injury until after the game. Swinney also kept Watson’s ability to play quiet as well so the Gamecocks had to prepare for Watson and for backup Cole Stoudt.
Everything worked out perfectly.
Wearing a knee brace that basically acted like his ACL, the true freshman diced up the Gamecocks on 14 of 19 passing and even scrambled out of trouble a few times. He set up his first of two 1-yard touchdown runs with a nine-yard scramble from the USC 10.
Even when South Carolina brought pressure, Watson stood tall in the pocket and delivered accurate passes.
“That’s Deshaun. Just to see him running—and he didn’t do everything—that’s him. If he says he is going to play, I trust that he is going to do everything he can with everything he has,” former running back Wayne Gallman said. “That’s the kind of trust I have, and we have in him.”
Watson threw for 269 yards and two touchdowns, to add to his two rushing touchdowns as the Tigers cruised to a 35-17 victory, snapping the Gamecocks five-game win streak in the series.
The next week, Watson had surgery on his left knee to repair his ACL and he sat out the Tigers’ win over Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
The next two years, Watson went on to become the most decorated player in Clemson history, while leading the Tigers two national championship game appearances, including winning it all in 2016 with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow with one second left to beat Alabama.
However, the Legend of Deshaun Watson started on a cold November afternoon at Death Valley in 2014, when on a torn ACL he beat the Gamecocks for the first time, just like he promised.
“It feels good to end the streak and be State Champions,” Watson said. “That is something everyone involved in this program has wanted to do for the last four years here.”
Clemson has not lost to the Gamecocks since and has won the last four games in the series by an average margin of 24 points.