Deshaun Watson limped onto the field at Memorial Stadium with an injured left knee and helped Clemson do something it had not achieved in the five previous years, earn a win over South Carolina.
Head coach Dabo Swinney announced in the moments after the game, Watson’s feat was more courageous than we all had thought. He took down the Gamecocks, not just on a bad knee, but on one that had a torn ACL.
Even with a torn left knee, the freshman quarterback threw for 269 yards and two touchdowns, while running for two more in No. 21 Clemson’s 35-17 victory over South Carolina on November 29, 2014.
“I wasn’t really in a lot of pain. I just could not move it that much,” Watson said afterwards.
Watson went out of the game two times. On the Tigers’ opening drive, after Clemson moved the football from its own three to the South Carolina 26, but following an incomplete pass to Germone Hopper, he took himself out of the game.
That drive ended with a missed field goal.
Leading 21-7 with just under three minutes to play in the first half, the Gainesville, Georgia native left the game again when the Tigers moved the football to the USC 49. Again, he took himself out of the game, this time after running back Wayne Gallman ran off left guard for three yards.
That drive ended when backup Cole Stoudt threw an interception two plays later.
“My knee locked up on me. I was not used to the brace,” Watson said. “It was real tight on me. That’s how the brace is, but at the moment it locked up, so I had to come out.”
Swinney said the brace was cutting off the circulation in Watson’s calf, so they took him into the locker room just before the end of the first half, took the brace off and readjusted everything.
Watson returned in the third quarter and did not leave the game again. He led the Tigers to two more touchdowns after that, including running for a one-yard score in the fourth-quarter that sealed the victory.
“Deshaun Watson, he is a mental and genic freak. That’s all I can say,” Swinney said. “There is no other way I can say it to be honest with you.
“This kid just played this whole game with a torn ACL. And when he shot off and ran for that touchdown that was just unbelievable.”
Watson did not actually score a touchdown on the play Swinney described, but it was a gutsy effort, nonetheless. From the South Carolina 10, he ran nine yards on a scramble that put the ball at the one. He scored on the next play, his first of his two rushing touchdowns. That gave the Tigers a 21-7 lead with 4:55 to play in the second quarter.
“This guy is special, he really is,” then offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “He is a winner.”
On that Saturday, Watson was about beating the Gamecocks and ending the five-game losing streak to their rivals. And with his 14-of-19 passing, he was one of the main reasons as to why.
“He was great. I will tell you, I was amazed,” Swinney said.
The win over the Gamecocks in 2014 was the first of five straight in the series by the Tigers heading into next Saturday’s showdown in Columbia. It was a performance that not only snapped a five-game losing streak to South Carolina, but it was the first of the Tigers regaining control of the rivalry it has always owned.
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