What a season our Tigers played! We saw arguably the best Clemson team in school history, of course all due respect to the 1981 National Championship team. This team, like many other Tiger squads we have seen is run based on a high powered, fast paced offense. Former offensive coordinator Chad Morris created a playing style that sets the Tigers up as an elite offensive machine that can score from any position in a number of ways. If you watched the Tigers play at all this year you know our most important asset, like most teams is the quarterback position. But what would this team be without our best player at the most important position, Deshaun Watson.
Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Watson came into the year off the torn ACL surgery from last season with much more to prove. We all expected big things from Deshaun this season, but he took his game, as well as Clemson’s to the next level. Along with Watson we saw some two other quarterback’s get some playing time this season, Nick Schuessler and Kelly Bryant. Nick Schuessler, who has been a backup for the Tigers since 2013, saw playing time in 5 games this season: Wofford, App State, Georgia Tech, Boston College and Miami. In those games he didn’t throw a touchdown but was 13-23 for 177 yards. Kelly Bryant, a newcomer to the Clemson family, plays with a similar style as Watson. We saw some sparks from Bryant this season, especially against Miami with his two rushing touchdowns. Kelly played in 7 games this season and even ran a quarter’s worth of wild cat plays against Wake Forest.
This group was phenomenal this season, considering Deshaun Watson finished 3rd in Heisman voting (highest in Clemson history) and led an undefeated team to the National Title game. Watson and company are an incredibly talented group that all possess a certain set of skills that seems to set them apart from many other quarterback groups in the country:
Read Option- We saw possibly the best QB/RB combination in the country this season with Watson and Gallman. These two were the only duo in the country to both rush for 1000 yards and 10 touchdowns, all made possibly by the read option. The running ability of our quarterbacks seemed to be what really set us apart from the teams we played this season. With the mix of a mobile quarterback and an arsenal of talented receivers, it can give a defense quite a bit of trouble.
Reading Blitz- No quarterback in the country runs like Deshaun Watson does in open space. Watson continuously finds ways to beat defenses on the ground in what seems to be effortless rushing attempts. If you watch game film from this season, when does Watson break his biggest runs? When you decide to blitz. The second Watson or even Kelly Bryant for that matter feel blitz, they immediately take off towards that direction for an easy 8+ yard gain.
Poise and Game Control- No player in the country looks more calm and in control in tight situations than Deshaun Watson. Every week we can hear the same thing from whoever may be calling the game, "Look how calm Watson is." He seems to control the game better as the situation gets increasingly tougher. Against Notre Dame he was exceptional making great plays and controlling the tempo of the game while dealing with the storm of the century for the south.
Passing- Our quarterbacks did a fantastic job this season of getting the ball to all of our talented receivers this season. We saw Watson make incredible throws in just about every situation imaginable. Throwing for over 4,100 yards this season on top of his 1,100 rushing yards, it was clear why he was the top duel-threat quarterback coming out of Gainesville High School.
This season we saw so many great things from our team that it can be hard to point out weaknesses or things that can be worked on. However we can always get better, so let's take a look at how the quarterbacks can come back in 2016 even better than this historic season:
Pushing the pace- While Watson threw 35 touchdowns, he also gave the ball away 13 times. The first of the season came against Appalachian State where Watson forced a pass to Charone Peake and overthrew him by just a touch leading to the interception. We’ve seen this several times over the season where Watson wants to get things going quickly and misses a target by just enough to cause an interception. These plays don’t tend to happen in "big" situations, they normally come when we are gaining momentum and we want to go fast, a little too fast.
Patience- Another area where our quarterbacks need to improve is not settling for the first look every pass play. In the Tiger’s first ACC game against Louisville, Watson and company once again had a decent drive going and on a 1st and 10 decided to go for a deep look. The pass was intended for TE Jordan Leggett running a wheel route out of the back field. Watching the play, it seems as if Watson had his mind set on making the throw as soon as he snapped the ball. By making this decision too quickly he failed to see the SS cheat over and bring double coverage towards the throw, causing an interception.
Ball protection- During the game against South Carolina, we saw several unnecessary turnovers, primarily from Gallman and Watson. Late in the first quarter against South Carolina, after Gallman had already coughed the ball up once, the Tigers fumbled again. This one was on Watson, it was a read option play where Watson appeared to have read the defense wrong and at the last minute attempted to pull the ball away from Gallman, causing a fumble.
Brandon Streeter- A
Streeter, Clemson’s quarterback coach and recruiting coordinator has done an incredible job over the past two seasons with the Tigers. His first assignment, Deshaun Watson, is the best player in the country coming into the 2016 season. After watching each game this season and how much these quarterbacks have improved it is obvious Streeter has done quite a bit of work with Watson, Schuessler and Bryant. The real challenge will be for Streeter to continue coaching Watson at this elite level. Watson seems to be one of the most coachable players in the game and looks to have an even better season next year and a better shot at hoisting the Heisman trophy.
The good news is; there are no losses at the quarterback position. Deshaun will be a true junior next season, and better than ever. Kelly Bryant looks to bring some flare to our offense next season during his sophomore season as well. Clemson looks to have the best quarterback coming into the 2016 season as well as the Heisman favorite in Deshaun Watson.
This season has been the exclamation mark on the work Dabo Swinney has been putting into this team. This team's success is not by accident; the building process has taken a few years but we are finally seeing the results of what looks to become a powerhouse college football program. Clemson fans, while disappointed at the way the season ended, have plenty of things to be excited about coming into the 2016 season. Deshaun Watson has proved to be better than advertised and if his National Championship performance is any indication of what is to come next season; buckle up, it's going to be one wild ride.