Nothing is more important to a team than its leaders. Of course the first place to look for leadership is the head coach; and don’t worry kids, Dabo has us covered. But once the players hit the field who takes over? The quarterback. It should be no shock that Clemson is coming into the 2016 season as one of the favorites to go the distance. At the helm, Deshaun Watson is in the best form of anyone in college football, and doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon.
Looking into 2016 we can expect one thing for sure, Watson will go off. He is the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and is leading the Clemson offense, which has been ranked as the second favorite to bring home the National Championship. While the college football offseason has been full of controversial issues, Watson has done nothing but get better, and it’s going to show this season. So, let’s take a look at what to expect from Watson and the quarterback corps of the explosive Clemson offense:
Watson is returning to the Tigers as the first team All-ACC quarterback as well as making first team All-American. On top of those accomplishments, Watson also took home the Davey O’Brien Award (Best Quarterback). These accomplishments are just the beginning, we can expect the same output as last year, and most likely more than what we saw in 2015.
While most people wouldn’t want to build their next season off of a National Championship loss, that’s all Clemson fans would want Watson to work from; consider his National Championship statistics:
Passing Yards: 405 (Game High)
Passing Touchdowns: 4 (Game High)
Comp/Att: 30/47 (Game High)
Rushing Yards: 73 (2nd most behind Derrick Henry)
A good deal of the usual powerhouse schools find themselves running around, hoping and praying that the quarterback they’ve selected is going to be as good as advertised; not Clemson. We’re sitting back relaxed a little; Watson has everything we could want in a quarterback, not to mention the pieces around him have set him up to be the absolute best in the country.
Our receiving corps is so strong that we were able to lose a main target in Mike Williams, last year, and still go undefeated. With a stellar group consisting of Mike Williams, Artavis Scott, Hunter Renfrow, and Deon Cain, Clemson is locked and loaded to put up huge numbers this year. That group doesn’t take into account our amazing running backs, tight ends, and offensive line, that have only gotten better and stronger since last season.
So what can we really expect from the quarterback unit?
Well, look at it this way, Watson will not be playing once Clemson is up by a substantial amount. In the long run, Watson, as well as the rest of the team, want a National Championship more than a Heisman Trophy. Watson told the media just that last season when he was invited to New York for the Heisman presentation; he wants the ring more than the trophy. So when Clemson plays schools like Troy, South Carolina State, Wake Forest, and Boston College, there is a good chance that Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel will be getting reps.
It isn’t intended to be a dig at the schools listed above, last season we saw Kelly Bryant play in seven games (Wofford, App State, Georgia Tech, Boston College, Miami, Syracuse, and Wake Forest). So, it isn’t unreasonable to believe he will get a good bit of touches this year as well. We specifically saw him have a breakout in the Miami game, where he ran for two touchdowns on 59 yards.
Another way Bryant will be used this season is in the ‘wildcat’ formation. We saw this last season in the Wake Forest game for two full series. The formation features Bryant at quarterback with Deshaun Watson at wide-out. While no one is dumb enough to believe we’re throwing deep balls to Watson, they have to respect the speed and elusiveness he brings any time he is on the field.
We have yet to see Israel challenged other than in the Spring game, where he played fairly well. We can reasonably expect him to lead a few drives this season, most likely in the first two games at home against Troy and South Carolina State. While it may seem a little crazy to stretch the offense and play three quarterbacks in a game, Watson is gone next year, and we need a definitive replacement for the 2017 season. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see both Bryant and Israel really show out this season for that purpose.
The big question will be what the coaching staff decides to do about Nick Schuessler. Though thought of as the backup, Dr. Schuess is a senior, and frankly, isn’t the future of the team. He has been getting second team snaps in fall camp and there is a worry that when Watson is pulled from games Schuessler will be the first man in. That will hurt Israel and Bryant this year. Schuessler hasn’t exactly impressed in his limited action and his presence either means Israel and Bryant aren’t ready or that he really is better than both. Neither are good things for Clemson.
The final QB on the roster, and one that we probably won’t hear much from this year is Zerrick Cooper. The freshman is likely to redshirt in 2016 in preparation for a QB competition next spring. Cooper is 4-star QB out of Georgia and some think that holding him this year is a mistake. Better to give him experience now to get him ready to compete in 2017. But that seems unlikely.
Needless to say, Clemson’s offensive attack will be lethal, and our quarterbacks will be leading the way. Watson, Bryant, and Israel should all see some touches this year, most likely just Watson and Bryant, but nevertheless they will be putting up some impressive numbers.