In hindsight, it was one of the most impressive performances of the 2014 college football season. Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, then a freshman, led the Tigers to a 35-17 victory against arch-rival South Carolina, throwing for two touchdowns and running for two more.
The most impressive part? Watson did all that with a torn ACL.
“I just wanted to finish out the season,” Watson said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “I had so many opportunities. I didn’t have too many opportunities to play my freshman year and I just wanted to end with a bang. I was able to play with a torn ACL against South Carolina, our rivalry, and flip the streak around. To be able to accomplish that, especially my first year at the program, was pretty special. After that, I knew it was time to get surgery. I knew Cole Stoudt was going to do a great job in the bowl game. We went down to Orlando and had a great time and he finished out well.”
Clemson beat Oklahoma, 40-6, in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Watson, meanwhile, recovered from surgery.
“I couldn’t really do anything until fall camp,” he said. “It was a real struggle, but I’ve been getting through it and it made me a better player.”
It’s showing this season. Watson has completed 70.3 percent of his passes for 1,936 yards, 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He’s also run for 386 yards and four scores.
The No. 3 Tigers (8-0) host No. 17 Florida State (7-1) this Saturday in Death Valley. The last time they did that – October 2013 – they lost to the Jameis Winston-led Seminoles, 51-14.
“Clemson, it wasn’t their night,” said Watson, then a high school senior. “Florida State came out and ready to play and they played better that night and really executed. We know the room for error is very small and we have to take it one play at a time and just keep getting better from it. We know Florida State is going to come and try to beat us and take over and win the division. So the opportunity is here for us. We just have to go take it and play like we want it. . . . We have an opportunity to actually clinch the division and be in the ACC Championship. The opportunities are there. We just have to go take it and keep doing what we’re doing. It’s a one-game season. This is the biggest game of the year. Just play Clemson football and we’ll be just fine.”
It’ll be interesting to see where Clemson is ranked in the initial College Football Playoff rankings, which come out Tuesday night. Watson said that Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney “mentions” the playoff to his team but that everyone understands the rankings are irrelevant – at least right now.
“It’s just the beginning of November,” Watson said. “Everything is going to fold out. Each week, teams are separating each other. Each week, the stage is going to get brighter and get bigger. So just keep doing what we’re doing and everything else is going to fall into place. So he brings it up, but not too much.”
Clemson plays one ranked team – Florida State – the rest of the way. Kickoff is slated for 3:30 p.m. ET.