With three minutes remaining in the second quarter of Saturday’s game between Clemson and N.C. State, the Tigers – already up 31 – were able to pull freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson.
As they did so, an NFL scout sitting in the Memorial Stadium press box packed up his things and headed for the exit.
The scout had seen all he needed to from Watson, while the N.C. State defense – which allowed 312 total yards of offense in the first half – had taken in all it cared to.
Watson would return for two series in the third quarter and lead the Tigers to a field goal before enjoying a front-row seat for the remainder of Clemson’s 41-0 licking of N.C. State in front of 78,459 at Death Valley.
The 41-point loss was the largest in the history of the Clemson-N.C. State series (by either team) and the seventh straight loss on the road in the ACC for the Wolfpack (4-2, 0-2), whose last conference win on the road came in College Park, Md., back in October of 2012.
A true freshman and the nation’s top quarterback recruit in the class of 2014, Watson, shredded the N.C. State defense to the tune of four touchdowns – two with his arm and two with his feet – marching his way up and down the field at will.
Watson, who set a Tigers’ record with six touchdown passes in his first game as the team’s starter at North Carolina last week, finished the game 17 of 29 for 267 yards, while also logging 62 yards on the ground.
“He played really well,” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren of Watson said. “He ran the football with an attitude, which I didn’t know he could do because he hadn’t done that on film yet. Last week, he just threw the ball all the time. He was jumping over (our) guys. He’s impressive and a very explosive runner.”
On the Tigers first possession of the game, Watson connected with Mike Williams on a deep look down the left sideline for a 56-yard touchdown to cap a seven-play, 82-yard drive.
After a three-and-out by the Wolfpack, Watson again hooked up with Williams, this time for a 31-yard strike down the right sideline.
“Watching film, I saw a lot of opportunities for the deep ball because their cornerbacks don’t play physical,” said Williams, who finished with six receptions for 155 yards. “I just put it in my head that we (were) going to have a great game.”
Clemson’s next two possessions ended in Watson rushing scores of five and three yards – he went barreling headlong over an N.C. state defender for the first – to put the Tigers up 28-0 just 1:07 into the second quarter.
“(Watson’s) pretty good for a freshman,” said Wolfpack senior linebacker Rodman Noel, who finished the game with a team-high 10 tackles (seven solo). “I think he prepared well and (did) his scouting on us. He ran the ball good and threw the ball good. I think he’ll get better as his career goes on.”
In his two starts this season, Watson has totaled 792 yards of total offense and 702 passing.
In a game that was sold to fans as a matchup between two of the more exciting quarterbacks in the ACC, Watson’s performance contrasted vastly with N.C. State’s Jacoby Brissett’s, who finished the game a dismal 4 of 18 for 35 yards.
“It was tough,” said Brissett, who was sacked three times and lost two fumbles. “They came out with a great plan. They played hard. At the end of the day, I can’t play the way I played today. I’ve got to play a lot better for us to win.
“I felt like I was pressing,” Brissett added. “That’s probably the worst game I’ve ever played in my life.”
For now, the Tigers and their impressive freshman will prepare to face Louisville next week, while the Wolfpack head home to play Boston College in a game it hopes will be worth watching all the way through.