Clemson-NC State Preview
Watson said a big reason for the success this season with Clemson (7-0, 4-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) is the level-headed attitude the Tigers keep bringing into practice even as the victories pile up.
The Tigers try to open 8-0 for the second time in five seasons when they face North Carolina State (5-2, 1-2) on Saturday.
Watson enjoyed Clemson's 58-0 win over Miami - Hurricanes coach Al Golden was fired Sunday, a day after the worst loss in program history - and thought it was great the Tigers had moved up into prime territory for the four-team College Football Playoff.
But rankings are "just a number to me," Watson said Monday. "None of that stuff matters until December."
Watson seems the perfect model for a steady-handed quarterback, unaffected by the Tigers' stirring success or, at times this season, his offensive struggles. Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said it's Watson's even-keel demeanor that keeps the Tigers churning toward their goals.
Watson said he's just himself.
"I've been the same me ever since I got here," the sophomore said. "There's no need for me to change."
Not when Clemson's playing so well. The Tigers have outscored their past three opponents 135-41 with Watson doing whatever is required to win games.
He passed for 685 yards and five touchdowns combined in wins over Georgia Tech and Boston College. Watson threw for just 143 yards in the Miami win with the Tigers relying on the ground game after building their lead.
Elliott said the Tigers enjoyed the rout this weekend, but were snapped back into the task at hand against the Wolfpack by coach Dabo Swinney and his staff.
Clemson has won 10 of the last 11 in the series with North Carolina State - Watson accounted for four touchdowns in last season's 41-0 rout - but hasn't had it easy in its last two trips to Raleigh. The Tigers lost 37-13 in 2011, the last time they fell to an unranked opponent, and had a scare before an 83-yard Wolfpack touchdown run was called back in a 26-14 win two years ago.
North Carolina State cornerback Jack Tocho said the Wolfpack won't get caught up in Clemson's big win last week.
"It's very impressive, but you can't look at it like a monster," he said. "They scored 58 points against Miami's defense, but we run a different scheme."
Clemson safety Jayron Kearse said the Tigers have kept their edge because they don't treat one opponent as better than any other or feel a win like Saturday's Miami blowout is any different than a 49-10 win over FCS opponent Wofford that started the season.
Defeating the Hurricanes "gives us confidence, but it doesn't outweigh any other win that we have," Kearse said.
Clemson has won 10 straight games, its longest streak since the 1983 and 1984 seasons. The Tigers have also won their past 35 in a row against unranked opponents since that Wolfpack loss four years ago, which Kearse sees as a testament to the team's resolve not to back slide. The junior makes sure the players hit the practice field with purpose and fire to improve each session.
"If we get worse, that's when we become one of those teams who lose to teams they're not supposed to," he said.
NC State's offense struggled in losses to Louisville and Virginia Tech to open October, putting up 13 points in each, but a bye week - and a visit to Wake Forest - seemed to help. The Wolfpack put up 28 points in the first quarter, all on plays that covered at least 57 yards, en route to a 35-17 win.
Jacoby Brissett threw for two of those touchdowns, giving him 10 against just one interception as he continues his efficient play.
That figures to be tough to keep up this week, though. Clemson's 93.0 opponent's quarterback rating is the third lowest in the nation, and it's hardly been any more forgiving on the ground. The Tigers are allowing just 2.8 yards per carry - sixth lowest in the FBS - and have held their four ACC opponents to just 2.2.