Forget trying to contain him.
Oklahoma’s goal is to keep Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson “in a cage.” And it still might not be enough.
“I feel like I’m dangerous either way [in or out of the pocket],” Watson said. “I would say I didn’t throw 3,500 yards for no reason, and they weren’t always outside the pocket. Either way I feel like I’m pretty dangerous.”
Teams that have faced Watson this season, including the hometown Miami Hurricanes, who suffered their worst loss in school history on Oct. 24, probably wouldn’t argue.
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Watson, Clemson’s sophomore Heisman Trophy finalist, will try to move the No. 1 Tigers a step closer to a College Football Playoff national title when he leads them against the No. 4 Sooners in the Capital One Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on Thursday at 4 p.m.
“We’re going to have to keep Deshaun in the pocket,” Oklahoma free safety Ahmad Thomas said. “If he gets out of the cage, we’re going to have a problem. But he’s a good pocket passer, too, and he’s got good receivers.”
Watson, the Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year and finalist for every major quarterback award, has thrown for 3,512 yards and 30 touchdowns and has run for 887 yards and 11 touchdowns.
And that came after sustaining a torn ACL and a broken hand that limited him during his freshman season.
“Even after he got hurt, [Watson] always had a playbook in his hand,” Clemson guard Eric Mac Lain said. “The way he approached it was cool to watch and to see his maturity.
“Sometimes when guys get hurt they walk away and don’t try as hard. He tried harder, he put on some weight and really approached it very systematically and smart.”
Watson, a state champion at Georgia’s Gainesville High School, threw for a Georgia state-record 13,077 yards and compiled 17,134 combined yards on his way to becoming the highest-rated dual-threat quarterback in the country.
Watson has exemplified the true meaning of a dual-threat quarterback so far at the college level.
“I think [Watson] puts stress on you because you have to account for him,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said. “You can’t every play, but you know that they want to feature him when they need to. When things aren’t going well, that’s the one guy that can make a play for them, and then it stresses your defense even more, and you’re out there single covered. That’s where they’re good in getting the ball vertically down the field.”
But sometimes the dual-threat label has cast dispersions on his true ability as a pure passer.
“A quarterback can do both,” Watson said. “It’s not so much sitting in the pocket. A lot of people think dual-threat and you can’t throw the ball. It’s really not about throwing for 400 yards every game, it’s about getting a ‘W.’ There are a lot of guys out there that can throw and run and be successful.”
And Watson has proved that this season.
His ability to throw the deep ball and make plays with his escape ability is something opponents have tried and failed to factor in when facing Clemson.
“[Watson] puts the ball exactly where he needs to be every time,” Clemson wide receiver Charone Peake said. “He does a good job controlling the offense, and the good thing for our offense is we don’t really have to do that as much because we’re confident that we can take the little things sometimes or even run the ball because our offense is so balanced.”
With 12 more combined yards, he can set the school record for combined offensive yards.
Against UM in October, Watson did not finish the game only because he had already kick-started the Tigers’ 58-0 blowout win by throwing for 143 yards and a touchdown and running for 98 yards and another score in the first half.
Watson is inspired to have an extended encore this Thursday and not just because a berth in the national championship game is at stake.
Watson said Sunday that his mother, Deann, a cancer survivor, will be in attendance.
“It’s a blessing to have her in the stands and just to have her see her son achieve the dreams that I always dreamed about,” Watson said. “Every time when I was a little kid I told her I wanted to play college football and be at this stage, and now I’m here.”