No. 5 Clemson, QB Watson look to bounce back vs. Wake Forest
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Deshaun Watson knows No. 5 Clemson won't lose its championship mindset, even after its first regular-season loss in two years.
He also doesn't believe the Tigers have lost their chances at a national title.
Watson said the Tigers (9-1, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) are focused on Wake Forest and the chance to clinch the ACC Atlantic Division to advance to the league title game following a stunning, 43-42 loss to Pittsburgh this past Saturday.
Watson passed for an ACC record 580 yards, but also threw three critical interceptions - two at the goal line - as the Tigers' run at a second straight perfect regular season came to a surprising end. Still, Watson said the team's title goals remain alive, particularly after No. 4 Michigan and No. 7 Washington also lost Saturday shortly a after Clemson was upset.
''We're still going to have the same mindset, go out there execute, dominate and try and be the best we can be,'' Watson said Monday. ''That's not going to change.''
Neither has Clemson's path back to the College Football Playoff. Beat Wake Forest (6-4, 3-3), then rival South Carolina in the regular-season finale and the ACC Coastal champ (Virginia Tech and North Carolina at tied atop the division) in the conference title game, and the Tigers likely will be in the four-team playoff.
''Last year, Alabama won at 14-1 so there's no reason why we can't,'' tight end Jordan Leggett said.
Wake Forest is also coming off a disappointing defeat, 44-12 at No. 3 Louisville after entering fourth quarter ahead 12-10. Demon Deacons safety Jessie Bates III said the team, like the Tigers, will return to work, watch lots of film ''and see what we can do against Clemson.''
Watson sounded at times like Clemson's first home loss since 2013 hadn't fully sunk in.
''We haven't had too many losses, especially in college. It's new around here,'' he said. ''But you live and you learn. You're going to take losses.''
Watson, a junior leaving for the NFL after this season, is 27-3 as Clemson's starter. He acknowledged his mistakes are up - 13 interceptions this season after 15 total his first two years - and that's cost Clemson at times.
Watson is ready to bounce back at Wake Forest and try for Clemson's 10th consecutive road win, extending the school mark set three weeks ago in a 37-34 victory at Florida State. The Tigers have also won seven straight against the Demon Deacons.
''We've just got to understand that we've got to go out there and earn it,'' he said. ''We're not entitled into each game knowing that we're going to win it. We've got to play four quarters and go get it.''
Clemson, despite its mistakes, looked ready to put Pitt away a couple of times in the final quarter. Watson's last interception came on second-and-goal at the Panthers' 3. On the Tigers next drive, they failed to gain a yard on third and fourth down -tailback Wayne Gallman was stopped twice by Pitt, which allowed 630 yards overall.
The Panthers cashed in on Clemson's miscues, Chris Blewitt hitting a 48-yard field goal with six seconds to go for the victory.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said there is no good time to lose.
''But if you do, you learn from it and keep moving forward,'' he said. ''It's all about what's in front of us. That's just the mentality we've had around here for a long time. One bad day is not going to change that.''
Watson, his right shoulder sore from a school-record 70 passes Saturday, is eager to get back to work on the Tigers' championship goals.
''As a team, we understand what we can fix,'' he said. ''When you do all the little things, the big things take care of'' themselves.''
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