Clemson freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson’s calm approach to things will surely get tested against North Carolina on Saturday night. After all, it’s not every day you make your first college start.
Watson played most of the game last week against No. 1 Florida State, nearly leading the Tigers (1-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) to a victory over the top-ranked Seminoles before falling 23-17 in overtime. Watson performance of 266 yards passing and a short touchdown run earned him ACC rookie of the week honors and the chance to start against the Tar Heels (2-1, 0-0).
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris thought Watson excelled in a difficult environment, staying poised and in control throughout his time behind center.
“It’s just a shame that we didn’t come out there without a win, because that would’ve been unbelievable,” Morris said. “His performance was unbelievable as it was. We’re excited about where we’re going with him.”
Watson acknowledged he’ll feel some nervousness at getting his first chance to lead Clemson in packed Death Valley. But he said he’d been planning for the moment
“You have to start off fast. The energy and the team are going to feed off you, the starting quarterback, so you have to start off fast and execute the plays,” he said.
Morris said Watson has kept a steady, level head about him since enrolling last January. He’s worked hard, learned from more experienced Clemson quarterbacks like senior Cole Stoudt and patiently waited until his coaches thought him prepared for a bigger role on the offense.
Most Clemson fans didn’t need to wait that long, eagerly calling for more Watson since his prep days at Gainesville High in Georgia where he set state marks with 17,134 yards of offense and 218 touchdowns. Watson said he’s prepared to help Clemson win in all situations, whether he’s on the field first or loss.
“You always have to be ready for that time because you never know what’s going to happen,” he said.
Things to watch when North Carolina plays Clemson:
TWO QUARTERBACKS: The same way Deshaun Watson played while senior Cole Stoudt started and played most of the way in Clemson’s first two games, expect Stoudt to see action against North Carolina. Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said Stoudt was disappointed at not playing more against Florida State but has handled the demotion in a first-class way. “We’re going to need Cole,” Morris said.
COMING OFF A BLOWOUT: North Carolina enters this week hoping to turn things around after an embarrassing 70-41 loss at No. 23 East Carolina, a program record for most points allowed. The Tar Heels also gave up 789 yards of offense, something North Carolina defensive leader Vic Koenning will try and change this week. Koenning said his group has concentrated on tackling and getting more defenders to the ball carrier in all situations. Koenning was Clemson’s defensive coordinator from 2005-08.
FIXING MISTAKES: Clemson’s errors against Florida State were more than just costly - they came at the worst possible moments. Among the mistakes were two drives inside the Seminoles red zone that ended without points because of Ryan Norton’s bad snap and a pair of missed field goals.
GOING FAST: There aren’t many times when Clemson’s offense sees an attack that goes even quicker than the Tigers. This is one of them, though. Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora likes to up the tempo and his team is averaging nearly 43 points a game through three games. That wasn’t enough against East Carolina. North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams knows the team has to let that go “because if we’re still dwelling on that game, we’ll go down to Clemson and they’ll beat the brakes off us.”
KEY STRETCH: Clemson coaches know that if the Tigers want to gain so momentum this season, now’s the time to start. The Tigers hadn’t opened 1-2 since the 2004 season, those losses coming at powerhouses Georgia and Florida State. The North Carolina game is the first of three straight at home, giving the Tigers a chance to change course.
AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, contributed to this report
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