CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Injured quarterback Deshaun Watson is healthy enough to return for No. 19 Clemson, although Tigers coach Dabo Swinney says he might not use the freshman against Wake Forest on Thursday night.
Watson will be dressed out and prepared to play for possibly his first action in a month.
“It’ll probably be the most watched pregame warmup we have,” Swinney said. “He really looks good.”
Watson has missed the past two games for Clemson (6-2, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) with a broken bone in his right, throwing hand. Swinney said Tuesday that Watson’s condition improved greatly during the team’s bye week, that he threw the ball strongly and was ready to play should the Tigers need him against the Demon Deacons (2-6, 0-4). Watson is expected to start Nov. 15 when Clemson (No. 21 College Football Playoff) plays at Georgia Tech.
“Deshaun will be ready to play this week,” Swinney said. “Not sure we’ll play him. But he’s ready to go and come Monday, he’ll be cut loose. He’s just done tremendous.”
Swinney said Watson worked with the second team at practice sessions last week and was not bothered by the surgically repaired bone, which needed four screws to set in place after hitting it against an opponent’s helmet early in a 23-17 victory over Louisville on Oct. 11.
Senior Cole Stoudt, the son of former NFL passer Cliff Stoudt who entered the season as Clemson’s starter, stepped in for Watson to help the Tigers hold off the Cardinals. Stoudt started the next two games and while Clemson’s offense wasn’t the offensive juggernaut it had been with Watson — Clemson averaged 407 yards and 30 points in the five games Stoudt took the most snaps, compared with 476 yard and 36 points in three games where Watson had the most snaps — it still got past Boston College (17-13) and Syracuse (16-6) as part of a five-game win streak.
“I’m very encouraged by how Cole’s played and how he’s improved,” Swinney said.
Stoudt is also healthier with a week off after dealing with a shoulder injury suffered in the Louisville win. Stoudt led late-game touchdown drives to lockdown victories against Boston College and Syracuse.
Offensive coordinator Chad Morris acknowledged his group is accustomed to putting up bigger numbers.
“We are able to win despite some of the situations we have had, which is a good thing,” he said. “I would much rather have it that way than the other way.”
Clemson’s offense has been greatly helped by a Tigers’ defense that leads the ACC and ranks third nationally in fewest yards allowed. Wake Forest is 125th — dead last according to NCAA statistics — in yards per game with a 213.5 average.
Demon Deacons first-year coach Dave Clawson doesn’t expect to see Watson on the field for the Tigers, although his team will prepare for him to play.
“Maybe they’re hoping that they can win this one and not have to play him, give him another week to heal up,” Clawson said. “It would be good for us if they feel like they have to play him.”
If Clemson can win its sixth straight over Wake Forest — the Deacons’ last win in the series in 2008 was Tommy Bowden’s last as coach and the start of Swinney’s tenure — Swinney believes it will be an offense that will only get healthier and more productive down the stretch.
Watson didn’t sulk or pout during his injury as some newcomers might, Swinney said. He kept himself engaged in preparations even when he knew there was no chance he’d play, the coach said. “That’s a maturity you don’t see too often,” Swinney said.
Offensive line starter Isiah Battle is back after missing the Syracuse game on suspension. Banged up tight end Jordan Leggett will play against Wake Forest. Injured receiver Charone Peake is close to returning as is injured center Jay Guillermo.
“I think our best football is in front of us,” Swinney said.
AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary contributed to this report from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.