College football: Deshaun Watson's top games and moments at Clemson
Deshaun Watson had a legendary career as a Clemson Tiger. Just to name a few accolades — he finished with a 32-3 starting record, was a two-time Heisman runner-up, a two-time Davey O’Brien Award winner and brought home the program’s first national title since 1981.
Not to mention, he graduated in only three years with a communications degree.
The honors go on and on for the all-time great, who announced he will forgo his final season of eligibility late Monday night after the Tigers took down undefeated Alabama in the 2017 CFP National Championship.
But before Watson potentially lights it up on Sundays, let’s take a look back at his top games and moments from the past three years playing in front of the fans from Death Valley.
A record-setting debut vs. the Tar Heels | Sept. 27, 2014
There were no freshman jitters for Watson in his first collegiate start back in Week 4 of the 2014 season.
After the Tigers started the season 1-2, coach Dabo Swinney decided to make a move by inserting Watson into the starting lineup to take on conference foe North Carolina. And boy, did Watson respond.
The then-19-year-old true freshman dropped dime after dime on the Tar Heels secondary, carving up UNC for 435 yards and a school-record six touchdown passes in a 50-35 victory. He was an efficient 27-of-36 through the air and added a modest 28 yards on the ground. Five of his six touchdowns were for more than 20 yards, highlighted by his first career score on a 74-yard bomb in the first quarter to Germone Hopper.
From there, Watson never looked back.
Clemson regains state control | Nov. 29, 2014
Watson's numbers weren't quite as gaudy in this November matchup with South Carolina, but it meant even more given the circumstances.
The Tigers had not defeated their in-state rival Gamecocks since 2008 heading into that matchup in Death Valley. But with the emergence of Watson – who led Clemson's rise to No. 21 at that point in the season – change was in the air.
Watson once again found success on the deep ball, connecting with Artavis Scott twice for 70-yard and 53-yard scores. He finished with 269 yards, two passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns and zero turnovers in a drought-breaking 35-17 win.
Oh, and by the way, Watson put up these numbers playing on a torn ACL.
Welcome to the CFP | Dec. 31, 2015
Fast forward a year later and Clemson was no longer just the up-and-coming program – it was the owner of the nation's top quarterback, a 16-game winning streak and a trip to the Orange Bowl to play Oklahoma in the second-ever College Football Playoff.
Much of the credit for the Tigers' 37-17 victory goes to their defense, which caused problems all night for Baker Mayfield and an explosive Sooners offense. But on the other side of the ball, Watson once again showed why he earned a trip to New York as a Heisman finalist.
The then-sophomore finished with 332 total yards (187 passing, 145 rushing) and two touchdowns en route to earning Offensive MVP honors. After a slow first half, Watson was stellar over the final 30 minutes as the Tigers outscored the Sooners 21-0. His 35-yard roll-out strike to Hunter Renfrow in the third quarter and late-game run-pass option plays with Wayne Gallman quickly turned what was once a six-point lead into a safe 20-point victory.
This New Years Eve matchup would be the first of what would be a handful of standout Playoff performances.
Watson takes on the Tide; Part I | Jan. 11, 2016
The reward for dismantling the Sooners was a trip to Arizona 11 days later to face the vaunted Alabama defense in the national championship game. And while the Tide rolled to a tightly-contested 45-40 win, it wasn't for a lack of effort on Watson's part.
Watson gave Alabama's defense all it could handle with a 30-of-47, 405-yard performance for four touchdowns alongside 73 rushing yards. Clemson fought right until the final buzzer in a highly-entertaining finale, as Watson's last touchdown pass came with 12 seconds left on the clock.
Despite the loss, Watson's unprecendented performance against Alabama's elite defense resonated throughout the offseason as Clemson entered the new season as a popular pick to return to the national championship game. It even prompted Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban to claim that Watson was the best player in college football since Cam Newton prior to this year's Playoff.
Deshaun Watson vs. Lamar Jackson | Oct. 1, 2016
Lamar Jackson took the college football world by storm this season, starting with an eight-touchdown single-half outburst to start the year. That set the stage for a heavyweight Week 5 bout when Lamar-mania rolled into Death Valley for a battle of undefeated ACC contenders.
Jackson may have won the individual battle solely based on the box score, but it was Watson who came away with the all-important 42-36 win to reaffirm which program was the class of arguably the top conference this year.
|Player||Comp./Att.||Pass yards||Pass TDs||INTs||Rush yards||Rush TDs|
Trailing 36-28 with 7:52 left in regulation, Watson engineered two scoring drives to surge past the Cardinals in an up-and-down affair. The first came on a quick two-play drive that finished with a 20-yard pass to Mike Williams. He then finished an 85-yard game-winning drive with 3:14 to go, ending with a 31-yard strike to Jordan Leggett where he threw across the field right before a Cardinals defender brought him to the turf.
Jackson went on to win this year's Heisman over Watson, but it was Clemson's signal caller who was king that night.
Watson shreds South Carolina one last time | Nov. 26, 2016
Given the magnitude of this rivalry, it makes sense that Clemson vs. South Carolina makes it twice on this list.
Watson closed out this year's regular season with another momentous day against the Gamecocks, finishing with 347 yards and six touchdowns -- tying his own program record he set in his first career start -- in a 56-7 beatdown.
That marked the largest margin of victory in the storied rivalry since the turn of the century and was the final time Watson played in front of the home crowd at Memorial Stadium. That's quite a way to go out on Senior Day.
Watson leaves Clemson with a pristine 3-0 record to his name against the Tigers' in-state rivals.
Defending the crown | Dec. 3, 2016
Clemson all but clinched a second-consecutive spot in the College Football Playoff with a second-straight ACC title thanks to a 42-35 victory over upset-minded Virginia Tech in the conference championship game.
It was another ho-hum day for Watson, who accounted for all five Clemson touchdowns (three passing, two rushing) to go along with 373 total yards of offense. Using his allotment of top offensive weapons, he spread the ball out to eight different receivers.
Clemson hadn't won consecutive ACC titles in nearly three decades prior to December's win, but as Watson's career progression shows, streaks are meant to be broken.
Here was where the real work was set to begin, as another appearance in the Playoff meant Watson and the Tigers were deadset on finishing what they started the previous year -- which likely meant a rematch with Nick Saban and Co.
The final act | Jan. 9, 2017
Watson saved his best for last, going out just as every college football player dreams: with a game-winning touchdown pass to win the national championship.
Alabama had just retaken the lead on a beauty of a drive that ended with a 30-yard touchdown scamper by quarterback Jalen Hurts. With just 2:07 on the clock and Alabama's reliable defense retaking the field, the score seemed to be the final nail in the coffin for Clemson's hopes at knocking off the Tide in attempt No. 2.
But, just as in last year's title game, Watson was up for the challenge against Alabama's play-making unit. Using vertical threat Mike Williams and the rest of his rolodex of receviers, Watson brought Clemson to a first and goal situation with 14 seconds left. With six seconds left at the two-yard line, he then found former walk-on Hunter Renfrow open in the end zone for the decisive score with one tick remaining.
That closed out a 420-yard, four-touchdown performance where he turned the ball over zero times against a Tide team that made a living of creating points off mistakes. The player that Saban called the best player in the sport had knocked off the legendary coach for the first time in his five national title appearances.
The victory ended a 35-year drought in between Clemson national championships and it brought one of Watson's 2013 tweets to life:
Me. In a National Championship Game. I'm just waiting on that moment.— Deshaun Watson (@DeshaunWatson4) January 8, 2013
That moment finally came Monday night to put the bookend on Watson's legendary career as an all-time Clemson great.