Appalachian St.-Clemson Preview
While Watson looks to keep progressing in his return from injury, that process could be hampered by the loss of star receiver Mike Williams going into a home game against Appalachian State on Saturday.
Watson threw for 194 yards and two touchdowns in five series of work in a 49-10 rout of Football Championship Subdivision opponent Wofford last Saturday. Watson was glad to hit the field after nine months of recovery from a torn ACL in his left knee but said he has a ways to go to be the quarterback and leader Clemson needs to achieve its championship goals.
Watson typically takes a low-key approach to his play, locked on the big picture instead of celebrating individual success.
Not so for freshman receiver Ray-Ray McCloud, who was wowed by Watson in the opener.
''Having Deshaun, I've never played with a quarterback like that,'' said McCloud, who led the Tigers with eight catches for 80 yards. ''My Madden quarterback is never as good as him.''
Watson looked as if he had not been away from the field since his knee surgery, easily guiding to Tigers to touchdowns each time he was behind center. The Tigers were up 35-0 in the opening half. Watson played his final sequence to start the second half, leading Clemson to another touchdown before sitting out the rest of the way.
''I thought I did pretty decent,'' Watson said. ''It's been a long nine months of recovering and not a lot of games. I still have a lot more to improve on, of course.''
Watson worried about his ''loafs'' after watching film when he believed he did not fully complete his play fakes on zone read plays when he was supposed to take five steps.
''I kind of pulled up on four,'' he acknowledged. ''That game's in the past and you try and improve on this week.''
The first of his TD passes was a 4-yarder to Williams, who now faces his own lengthy recovery after fracturing a bone in his neck when he hit the goal post making that catch. A 1,000-yard receiver from last year, Williams was down on the field for several minutes before he was carted off.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Williams would need a neck brace for at least the next six weeks and could miss the entire season.
Tigers co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Jeff Scott said Williams worked hard to have a big junior season, but it is up to Clemson's other receivers to fill that void.
''We talk about it all the time that injuries happen and really the biggest thing to take away is that (Williams) was blessed it wasn't more significant,'' Scott said.
Watson does not expect a drop off without Williams, in part because of Clemson's deep group of talented receivers.
Artavis Scott was a freshman last season who led the Tigers with eight touchdown catches. He had six catches for 75 yards and a touchdown last week. McCloud and Deon Cain were both rated five-star receivers who are playing as freshman.
And Scott said fifth-year senior Charone Peake will be the steady hand who can pick up the leadership loss with Williams sidelined indefinitely.
Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield also doesn't see the injury hurting the Tigers, saying the offense and Watson hit all their marks last Saturday and will be difficult to slow down.
''I think several people have picked them to be in the final four in the playoffs at the end,'' Satterfield said. ''They have a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback that's outstanding. They have some wide receivers that are some of the best in the country.''
Satterfield's Mountaineers, a championship team in the FCS that moved up to the Football Bowl Subdivision two seasons ago, also opened impressively with a 49-0 victory over Howard.
Appalachian State has lost by an average of 38.0 points in its five games against programs from the power five conferences since its memorable 34-32 upset of No. 5 Michigan to open the 2007 season.
"Our full attention is on them. It better be," Swinney said. "If people don't think they can come in here and win, they're crazy. They beat Michigan. They can surely beat us."