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Deshaun Watson’s Interceptions, a Gif-vestigation

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How many of Deshaun’s interceptions are actually his fault?

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Clemson
Deshaun walks off the field following Clemson’s loss to Pittsburgh
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into this season, the talk about Deshaun Watson was like nothing else in college football. Deshaun could do no wrong and the path to an easy CFP + Heisman + 1st Overall Pick seemed to be there for the taking. Well, it’s needless to say that didn’t happen, the path to the CFP ended up much more difficult than first thought, Deshaun finished 2nd in Heisman voting to an in-conference usurper, and it isn’t looking like DW4 will be the first name called by the NFL Commissioner in the Spring.

A lot of what has been deemed so far to be a “let down” season for Deshaun can be drawn back to one thing, the occasional ill-fated pass that ends up in the hands of a man on the other team. There have been a total of 15 of these throws, compared to 13 last year (including the playoff), all of varying magnitude and consequence. One thing that does not show in the stat column, is whether or not the interception was the quarterback’s fault.

For a long time, many college football fans, myself included, have longed for an addition to the box score: team interceptions. Much like team passes are used to account for the QB spiking the ball to save time, team interceptions would be used when the ball is intercepted, but when the ball is tipped or otherwise influenced by things outside the QB’s control. So the miraculous interceptions that are tipped seven times before someone finally controls it won’t be the fault of the QB who can’t control anything after the ball leaves his hand.

To deem whether an interception is the fault of a QB or just bad luck, there are 3 main criteria:

  1. Was the pass tipped by someone?
  2. Was the pass on target?
  3. Was the passer hit as he threw?

An answer to the affirmative in regards to any of these questions could be enough to deem the interception the fault of someone else, the first criteria especially, and if all three are “yes” then it is without a doubt not the fault of the passer.

So let’s test this set of criteria on Deshaun.

Game 1, at Auburn

This one is easy. Was it tipped? Nope. Was it on target? Not even a little. Did the passer get hit as he threw? Eh, a little, not enough to cause that, though.

Verdict: Deshaun’s fault

Game 2, Troy

First INT

So far the criteria have it easy, as this one is clear too. Wasn’t tipped, wasn’t a good decision at all, and the pocket held up just fine.

Verdict: Deshaun’s fault

Second INT

This one isn’t quite as clear cut, as the ball was pretty well delivered and it wasn’t a very bad decision to make that throw, but it was a bad outcome nonetheless, and one that can’t really be blamed on anyone but the guy who threw it.

Verdict: Deshaun’s fault

Game 4, Georgia Tech

HAHAHAHAHAHA
HAHAHAHAHAHA

It doesn’t bother me that this interception was thrown. For all we know the play was designed this way and we got points out of it, so I’m happy. This is simply art. Enjoy it.

Verdict: Hilarious (Deshaun’s fault)

Game 5, Louisville

First INT

At first glance, this seems like one that would fit the criteria we’re looking for. The ball isn’t tipped, but it does seem to be well placed, a good decision, and the pocket is clean. But this interception isn’t one of those, as we can see upon further inspection:

This ball needed to be thrown into a much different spot, Deshaun should’ve led Mike Williams much more than he did. Instead, the ball was thrown into a spot where Mike Williams could’ve made the catch, but he was forced to slow down to do so, giving Jaire Alexander a chance to catch up to Williams and make a play on the ball, which he did.

Verdict: Deshaun’s fault

Second INT

Finally! This interception is finally one that fits the criteria that we’re looking for. The ball is well thrown to a ready receiver with room to work, but the receiver can’t make the catch and the ball bounces off of him up into the awaiting arms of the defender.

Verdict: Not Deshaun’s fault

Third INT

Another example of Deshaun just throwing the ball up and assuming a Clemson player will come down with it. The ball isn’t tipped, on target, or hurried by the pass rush, it’s just a bad pass.

Verdict: Deshaun’s fault

Game 7, NC State

This interception ended up being Deshaun’s first career pick 6, and it was clearly his fault. Had that defender actually bit on the fake, then the decision would’ve been fine, but he didn’t and luckily it didn’t cost Clemson a win.

Verdict: Deshaun’s fault

Game 8, Florida State (hey, that rhymes)

First and Second INT

I put both of these gifs together, mostly because of how similar they are. Neither pass is particularly hurried by pass rush, neither pass is tipped, and both passes are bad decisions.

Deshaun can give you the verdict on these two:

Game 10, Pittsburgh

First INT

This is another of one of Deshaun’s patented throw-it-up-and-hope plays that he will break out a couple times a game, and it goes about as well as most of the others. Sometimes Deshaun can make a throw through double coverage, but this was not going to be one of those times.

Verdict: Deshaun’s fault

Second INT

This one is a bit hazy, the ball is tipped and intercepted, but the pass was a little high, so which one is it? In this case, it’s my opinion that since the ball was tipped into the defender’s arms, it takes precedent since if the ball had not been tipped, it appears that it would’ve just hit the ground.

Verdict: Not Deshaun’s fault

Third INT

The last of the three costly interceptions versus Pitt is maybe the worst of the three. It’s another example of Deshaun making a bad decision to throw into triple coverage despite the danger involved, and it comes back to bite him immediately, as this particular INT was returned all the way to the Clemson 30 yard line.

Verdict: Deshaun’s fault

Game 12, South Carolina

The seemingly lone bad spot in the demolishing of South Carolina was this interception, but as the gif clearly shows, this one was thrown well but tipped into the defender’s hands, making this decision easy.

Verdict: Not Deshaun’s fault

Game 13, Virginia Tech

While there are many things that could lead to a verdict of this being a Deshaun INT, I don’t think it is one. Sure, Deshaun could’ve done a better job avoiding throwing the ball low enough to be batted down, but then the ball wouldn’t get to the receiver fast enough. Sure, he could’ve thrown it to a receiver that didn’t require such a low throw, but this could’ve been a scripted pass or the only option. So I’m willing to let it settle on being based mostly off the tip by the lineman (said lineman also injured his wrist on the play from the sheer power of the throw).

Verdict: Not Deshaun’s fault

So all in all, Deshaun has 11 interceptions that would be considered his fault according to my criteria, with 4 being the fault of misfortune. Coming into this gif-vestigation, I assumed it would be about 50/50 with Deshaun accounting for maybe 8 of his 15 INTs, but these gifs tell another story. Deshaun has been much more prone to plain ole bad decisions than most expected, with a number of the interceptions being undoubtably Deshaun’s fault. Given a month to prepare, Clemson should expect the Ohio State secondary to be ready to pounce on these mistakes.