Deshaun Watson has broken down every play of his season in excruciating detail, but he offers nothing in the way of detailed criticism of his early inconsistency or recent dominance. The numbers rise and fall, and Watson’s evaluation of his game -- or, more to the point, the team’s performance -- remains a slow, steady slog.
“We’ve been getting better each and every week,” Watson said. “Everyone’s doing their job and having fun with it. That’s really what it is.”
But if Watson wants to downplay his performance, the box score can do the talking for him.
He’s completing 70 percent of his throws, the fifth-best rate in the country.
He’s accounted for 24 touchdowns, 10th-most in FBS.
He’s completed half of his deep throws and has 11 touchdowns on passes of 20 yards or more (both fourth nationally).
And since his last interception at the end of the first half of the Tigers’ Week 7 game against Boston College, Watson is completing 78 percent of his throws, averaging 12 yards per attempt and has accounted for 10 touchdowns without an interception. Oh, and Clemson has scored 131 points in 10 quarters.
“Great teams get better each week,” Watson said. “We’re just trying to get better each week. The more games we win, the stage gets bigger, but we just do what we can do.”
The stage won’t be any bigger than this week’s game against Florida State, a team that has kept Clemson from the Atlantic Division title each of the past three seasons.
A year ago, Watson came off the bench in Tallahassee, Florida, and nearly toppled the Seminoles. If not for a fumble by C.J. Davidson deep in FSU territory late in the fourth quarter, Watson would almost certainly have delivered the win in just his third career game.
But it didn’t happen and so the monkey remains on Clemson’s back and the Seminoles remain the last great obstacle between Watson’s top-ranked Tigers and a trip to the College Football Playoff.
Don’t think the past is hovering over Clemson like a black cloud, though. That’s what Watson’s really brought to this team. His calm consistency understates his production, but it also has Clemson feeling comfortable even in the biggest moments, and the years of frustration against FSU feeling like a different lifetime.
“He’s not an emotional guy,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “He brings a presence to the field and a calmness to his teammates.”
Of course, it’s also easy to stay calm with a Heisman candidate in the backfield.
Take Clemson’s win last week over NC State, for example.
The Wolfpack jumped out to an early lead, but 81 seconds later, Watson had Clemson in the end zone.
NC State responded with a kick return for a touchdown and two plays later, Watson dished off a 57-yard score to Hunter Renfrow.
A missed field goal near the end of the first half offered Watson room to erase a one-point deficit. It took two plays and 15 seconds for him to do so.
NC State scored in the third quarter to pull within a touchdown. Watson then engineered a 75-yard touchdown drive.
NC State scored again in the fourth quarter to pull within 13. Two plays and 40 yards later, Watson had his sixth touchdown of the game.
He was relentless, but more importantly, Clemson was at ease. There are no great deficits with a QB playing this well, no challenges to be faced that will outweigh the one the opposing defense must stare down in Clemson’s backfield.
Watson can stake his claim for the Heisman with another emphatic performance against Florida State, but that’s nowhere on his radar at the moment. Swinney said Watson threw just one bad ball against NC State and Watson wants to see that fixed.
That’s the scary thing for FSU and Clemson’s future foes. Watson is playing his best football of the season, but he’s only focused on improving -- one more step on that slow march to perfection.
“There’s still some opportunities out there to get better,” Watson said. “But we have all kinds of explosiveness. We’re built for this.”