CLEMSON — Saturday’s game against Troy was expected to be an opportunity for Deshaun Watson to put up big numbers.
Instead, the Clemson quarterback and preseason Heisman Trophy favorite had another inconsistent performance as the Tigers offense again struggled to find its rhythm.
Watson finished the game with 292 passing yards, three passing touchdowns and 55 rushing yards, but he completed barely more than half of his passes and threw two interceptions.
On a day that backups Kelly Bryant and Nick Schuessler were expected to see action, Clemson’s starting quarterback ended up playing the entire game. Watson threw a career-high 53 passing attempts, but completed just 27 of those throws.
Watson didn’t get much help from his teammates.
“Deshaun’s no different than any of the guys out there,” said co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott. “I think there was mistakes by pretty much every player on the field. He made some really nice throws that we dropped, and then he had a couple throws I know he’d like to have back.”
Watson’s completion percentage could have been significantly better if not for the multitude of drops by Tigers wide receivers over the course of the game.
“He needs his playmakers to make plays,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “Just way too many drops. He put the ball on the money a bunch, and we just put the ball on the ground.”
Swinney estimated that Clemson’s pass-catchers had seven or eight drops in Saturday’s game, and that they have dropped four touchdowns in two games.
Watson also often had to deal with pressure in the pocket on Saturday. Clemson’s offensive line had its share of struggles in pass protection, though Swinney felt that unit improved as the game progressed.
“I thought they started slow,” Swinney said of the offensive line. “Just disappointed in a couple things early on, but they settled in. They can only do their part. They settled in and gave us the opportunity to make some big plays, and we just missed.”
Both Swinney and co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott classified Watson’s first interception, made by Troy cornerback Jalen Rountree on a deep pass intended for Mike Williams, as a misread by the quarterback.
Elliott put the blame on himself for Watson’s second interception. As Troy defensive end Rashad Dillard beat Clemson left tackle Mitch Hyatt to bring pressure, Watson tried to connect with Deon Cain on a deep corner route and was picked off by Trojans safety Cedarius Rookard.
“Probably went to the well one too many times on that corner ball, and their guy made a heck of a play,” Elliott said.
Mistakes by pass-catchers, blockers and play callers aside, Watson’s performance Saturday was still not one that will help his standing among Heisman voters. Right now, he wouldn’t even be the top quarterback candidate in his own conference; that would be Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, who has 1,015 total yards and 13 total touchdowns through two games.
Watson did enough Saturday to lead Clemson to a 30-24 win, but he knows that he and his entire unit need to be better for the Tigers to continue winning games and make another College Football Playoff run.
“We’re way better than that,” Watson said. “We just got to get on the same page as a whole offense.”
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