Former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson was given the chance recently to discuss his career and a number of other issues on a podcast with the Ringer. Watson talked about the end of his freshman campaign at Clemson on the podcast and, of course, beating the South Carolina Gamecocks on one good knee.
Watson suffered an ACL injury less than two weeks before the South Carolina game during his freshman season. The well publicized promise Watson made to Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, as well as his former high school football coach about never losing to the Gamecocks was in jeopardy.
“(After the injury) I go, ‘I can’t play against South Carolina,'” Watson said. “And I promised coach Swinney that as long as I’m here that I’m not losing to the Gamecocks… Ever. Man, I’ve got to be out there.
Watson was not only a team leader during his freshman season but he was also the heart and soul of that team for most of the season. The Tigers went as Watson went.
“I’ve got the energy to rally together the team,” Watson said. “I told coach Swinney and the doctors we had to have a meeting and they said if you can go out there and make plays, we’ll brace you up and you can protect yourself — you can play.”
Watson passed for 269 yards and two touchdowns in the 35-17 win against the Gamecocks. He also rushed for two more touchdowns helping to break South Carolina’s five game winning streak in the series.
It wasn’t until the postgame interview that Swinney let the public in on the secret that Watson had played the game on a torn ACL.
“The whole week I went with the 2s and they would watch me and I was running the ball,” Watson said. “Juking, spinning, everything. And they were like that Saturday that you can start. We’re not going to say anything right up to it. It was cool.”
Clemson fans still to this day give Gamecock fans grief about the fact that Watson beat them on one leg, while many gamecock fans yell that Swinney risked a kids health to win. That debate will probably never end.
Another debate that some will never give in on, is whether or not Watson should have left as Clemson’s first ever Heisman trophy winner. During the podcast he was asked about his feelings about not winning the Heisman Trophy after the Clemson quarterback finished in third place as a sophomore and was the runner-up as a junior.
“I should have won it back to back,” Watson said. “Lamar (Jackson) had a hell of a year (in 2016). In November, he lost a couple games. He’s my dog though. He deserved it. The year before, I was the first player ever in FBS history to pass for over 4,000 yards and rush for a 1,000 yards. Ever. Never been done. Johnny Manziel, Cam Newton — you go all the way back. And I came in third…It is what it is and we just kinda go from there.”
However, Watson did take home a number of awards outside of the Heisman. He won the Davey O’Brien and Manning Awards in both of those seasons as the nation’s top QB, and also took home the Archie Griffin award as a sophomore for the nation’s most valuable player.
In 2015, Watson finished third in the Heisman tally with 667 less votes than winner Derrick Henry of Alabama, who rushed for 2,219 yards and 28 touchdowns that year. Watson, meanwhile, had 5,209 all purpose yards and 47 scores.
Watson then had more first place votes as a junior (269), but Lamar Jackson topped 500 points (526) in the voting, and won the trophy easily. Jackson passed for 3,660 yards with 27 TDs and 10 INTs. He also rushed for 1,601 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Watson set Clemson records with 4,593 passing yards and 41 TDs while also rushing for nine scores and 629 yards. Before the Heisman vote that season Clemson won the ACC title with a 12-1 record on their way to the College Football Playoff. Jackson and his Louisville Cardinals stumbled at the finish line with two straight losses and ended the season with a 9-3 record.
It will always be said by many that he was snubbed or that he was robbed. As for his legacy, Deshaun Watson will always be remembered for the fact that he did exactly what he promised when he came to Clemson.
He never lost to the Gamecocks. That and the fact that he also helped get the Tigers back to a place they hadn’t been since 1981….. on top of the college football world.