Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris just had to give the needle to his quarterback after Saturday’s 50-35 blowout of North Carolina.
“Nothing but a snot-nosed freshman!” Morris joked as Deshaun Watson walked by after a record-setting six-touchdown game.
This was Watson’s debut as a college starter, and it might be challenging to top. He finished completing 27 of 36 passes for 435 yards, the six scores and one interception.
The six touchdown throws are a Clemson record.
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“I love to get the ball to all my playmakers. I love to spread it around,” Watson said after finding 10 receivers Saturday. “We kind of knew what (the Tar Heels) would do, and that’s exactly what they did.”
Watson enrolled in January to participate in spring practice and a crash-course in quarterbacking from Morris. He said he knew going in he was prepared for this. Several teammates talked about just how calm Watson is in any situation.
What’s his trick?
“I don’t let in outside things,” Watson said. “They’re just distractions.”
The victory made the Tigers 2-2 (1-1 in the ACC), while North Carolina fell to 2-2 (0-1 in the ACC). Clemson was coming off an overtime loss to Florida State that the Tigers easily could have won.
“We definitely have a much better feeling in that locker room right now,” Morris said. “We knew we beat ourselves last week. This was a pivotal game for this program.”
What does Morris like best about his freshman?
“The second-effort throws when he’s pulled from the pocket – his ability to see the field,” Morris said. “He extends plays with his feet.”
Watson made a rare big mistake early in the third quarter. In danger of being sacked, he threw up an awkward pass that was intercepted by North Carolina’s Sam Smiley.
That set up the Tar Heels for a Marquise Williams-to-T.J. Thorpe 41-yard touchdown pass, cutting the deficit to eight. But the Tigers quickly answered.
Watson found Mike Williams with two touchdown passes of 24 and 33 yards to push the margin up to 22.
The Tigers led 22-7 at the end of a first half in which the Tar Heels couldn’t get out of their own way.
Penalties were constant: seven flags for 65 yards. With 11 minutes left in the first half, the Heels had gained 34 yards while being penalized for 33. Shaky as North Carolina’s defense is, the Heels couldn’t afford two personal fouls that pushed along Clemson drives.
It took just 35 seconds of possession time for the Tigers to score their first touchdown. Watson found wide receiver Germone Hopper, who played at Berry Academy, up the middle for a 75-yard score. It was just Clemson’s second play from scrimmage.
The Watson-to-Hopper connection was also good for a 50-yard touchdown that gave Clemson a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter. Hopper got behind the defense by the time Watson threw, and Watson had abundant time against the Heels’ pass rush.
The Heels relied heavily on Elijah Hood at tailback. A freshman who played at Charlotte Catholic, Hood finished with 71 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown.
Clemson next hosts N.C. State on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The Tar Heels host Virginia Tech at 12:30.