Watson avoids major knee damage

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson has a sprained LCL and a bone bruise, the school announced Sunday, but the freshman quarterback could return to action for the season finale against South Carolina in two weeks.

Watson, who emerged as the Tigers' starting quarterback after nearly leading them to a win over then-top-ranked Florida State in September, suffered the knee injury in the first quarter of Saturday's loss to Georgia Tech. The injury looked severe in the immediate aftermath, but an MRI on Sunday revealed only a minor sprain.

Offensive guard David Beasley, who also suffered a knee injury against Georgia Tech, was diagnosed with Patellar tendon inflammation and may also return shortly.

"We received some great news," coach Dabo Swinney said. "Both players are not seriously injured, something we feared Saturday. They are listed as day-to-day, and their status will be evaluated later this week."

Saturday was Watson's first game back after he missed nearly a month with a hand injury, and it's the true freshman's third injury that caused him to miss time since he arrived on campus in January. He suffered the injury in a noncontact situation on a run that Swinney said would have gone for a touchdown.

"He's a guy that's been healthy forever, and sometimes you just have a stretch like this and you have to keep pushing forward," Swinney said.

Swinney sounded pessimistic before the MRI results were back, calling the injury "serious" and suggesting Watson would return strong next year. The minimal damage proved to be a pleasant surprise for a team that has suffered through myriad offensive setbacks this season.

"We've caught some tough breaks offensively this season, and it's been at every position," Swinney said before the diagnosis was made. "That's a frustrating thing, but we don't make any excuses. With what we have, we're good enough to win. And we have won. Our focus is trying to pick ourself back up and respond the way good programs should respond."

Watson was the top-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the 2014 signing class, and he enrolled early at Clemson in hopes of landing the starting job to open the season. Those efforts were thwarted by a shoulder injury suffered in spring camp, but Watson performed so well in early games this year, that he eventually supplanted starter Cole Stoudt.

Watson threw for six touchdowns in his first career start against North Carolina, and at the time of the hand injury -- suffered in a win over Louisville -- he led the nation in QBR. Without Watson, Clemson's offense slumped badly, so the Tigers were eager to get him back into the lineup Saturday against Georgia Tech.

Following Watson's injury Saturday, Stoudt struggled badly, completing just three passes for 19 yards while throwing three interceptions - two of which were returned for touchdowns. He was replaced by sophomore Nick Schuessler after the final pick. Swinney said Stoudt is capable of winning games still, but he declined to name a starter for Clemson's matchup Saturday against Georgia State.

"We'll go back to work, and obviously Cole Stoudt played really poor," Swinney said. "There's no way to sugarcoat that. But he's played well. He's proven he can win. But that was a tough day, and he can play better. We're going to challenge him and see how he responds, but the biggest thing is we've got to find out who's going to take care of the ball for us."

Whether Watson could potentially return this week remains to be seen, but the priority for Clemson will be to have its emerging star at quarterback in Week 14, when the Tigers try to beat rival South Carolina for the first time in six years.

ESPN.com's Andrea Adelson contributed to this report.