No. 17 Florida State preparing for No. 3 Clemson, QB Watson
Nov. 05, 2015
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — One look at this year's film told Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher all he needed to know about the growth of Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.
A year ago, Watson nearly stole the game from Seminoles in Tallahassee. This time Watson is looking to end Florida State's run atop the Atlantic Coast Conference when the teams meet at Death Valley on Saturday.
Fisher said the 6-foot-3 Watson has taken his game and the third-ranked Tigers (8-0, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) to another level since Florida State's 23-17 victory over Clemson last year.
"You see a totally different demeanor him because of knowledge, presence, poise at the line of scrimmage," said Fisher, considered among college football's savants at developing quarterbacks.
Fisher knows the No. 17 Seminoles (7-1, 5-1) face a tough challenge in containing the sophomore QB.
Watson entered the season as a Heisman Trophy contender. A choppy start — Watson has just one game over 200 yards passing in Clemson's first four starts — however, put him behind other candidates in the race, including LSU running back Leonard Fournette, TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin and Ohio State tailback Ezekiel Elliott.
Watson's performance the past month has led Clemson to No. 1 in the first College Football Playoff rankings and revived his national profile, not that he's focused on the individual honors at the moment.
Watson said he'd spend more time studying and completing school work than thinking about the Tigers' place in the national picture.
He sees himself as part of Clemson's puzzle, not the main piece. The statistics suggest otherwise. In the last three games, Watson has accounted for 1,130 yards and 12 touchdowns — all easy Tigers victories.
The Tigers can clinch the ACC Atlantic by defeating Florida State.
Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said Watson's best ability is inside the helmet in making fast, smart decisions that keep the Tigers moving.
"A guy that can consistently compute what's going on in a split second and get the ball to the right spot, that's very rare," he said.
Watson's mother, Deann, said her son always acted more mature than his age. As a 9-year-old, Watson brought home information about Habitat For Humanity homes where his family eventually relocated after growing up in subsidized housing.
"He always wanted to do what he could to help us," she said.
Tigers center Jay Guillermo said Watson was frustrated with his early play, throwing four interceptions in the first four games. Whenever Guillermo sees the tension building, he gets in Watson's face.
"I make him look me in the eyes and I say, 'Hey, man, I love you. Tell me you love me,'" Guillermo said.
Guillermo believes the silly exchange helps ease the mounting pressure on Watson as Clemson keeps winning and the stakes continue to rise.
"I worry about him and not letting things get into his head because there's a lot of pressure on him and the national spotlight is on him," Guillermo said. "He handles it very, very well. He handles it well because he prepares so well."
Watson is very comfortable with Clemson's playbook, often seeing things the coaches don't, Scott said.
For Tigers coach Dabo Swinney, Watson is a once-in-a-generation talent, a player with the insight of a coach.
"He can beat you with his arm, legs, mind and heart," Swinney said. "That's what makes him special."
Watson has answered the questions about his durability after injuring his collarbone, his finger and his knee in his first year with the Tigers. He's appears ready to continue to lead Clemson, which will probably only go as far Watson takes the Tigers.
For quarterback, it's not about the "wow" moments or big plays he makes — only about the Tigers success.
Watson was asked at a fan function this summer if he had a goal.
No doubt about it," he said, smiling, "15-0."
He's more than halfway there heading into the showdown with Florida State.
AP Sports Writer Joe Reedy from Tallahassee, Florida, contributed to this report.