In March, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney compared Deshaun Watson to Michael Jordan.
Well, if Week 4 of the NFL season was any indication, Swinney may have been right. The Texans rookie threw for 283 yards and had five touchdowns (four pass, one rush) in a 57-14 whitewashing of the Tennessee Titans.
Swinney wasn’t surprised in the least.
“I was just talking to him today, as a matter of fact,” Swinney said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney, “but he’s just doing exactly what I knew he would do. In the whole process, I tried to articulate to everybody that would listen that this guy, you have to look beyond just what you see on tape here. Whoever drafts him, he’s not going to just make your offense better; this guy’s going to change your franchise. He’s going to make the defense better, he’s going to make the players better, he’s going to make the community better – this guy, he is a special, special, rare guy. That’s what people don’t know. I’m not surprised at all. The only thing I’m surprised (about) is he didn’t start the very first week. That surprised me a little bit, but I think they put him in in the second half and the rest is history.”
Watson won his first game as a starter against the Bengals in Week 2, almost beat the Patriots in Foxborough before falling 36-33 in Week 3, and embarrassed the Titans in Week 4. Houston (2-2) hosts Kansas City (3-0) and Cleveland (0-4) before a Week 7 bye.
“He’s a winner,” Swinney said. “The guy’s a winner. He’s got all the talent in the world, but he’s not overwhelmed. He’s never been overwhelmed. He has an unbelievable perspective. He has his feet on the ground. He has a strong faith. He was a starter right out of the eighth grade on the varsity at a really good high school program. All this kid’s ever done is lead. It’s just what he’s supposed to do. He doesn’t think about it in terms of, ‘If I play bad, somebody might write a bad article.’ He doesn’t think like that. He’s just wired a little differently. He loves the moment. No stage is too big for him. He’s one of the greatest competitors and winners and preparers that I’ll ever be around. If the good Lord keeps him healthy, he’s going to be awesome.”
Watson was the 12th overall pick in the draft – despite the fact that numerous analysts said he should be a mid-round selection.
“It’s just mind-boggling to me,” Swinney said. “This guy is a one-in-a-million-type guy, and here’s the deal: He’s just going to get better. He’s in a new system, new players, new personnel, new venues, he’s got to kind of figure it out, he’s got to play all these teams. But let me tell you: he’s going to file it all away. His aptitude for the game is through the roof. Incredible intelligence and big-time football IQ. He’s just a guy that will process things and continue to get better as he gains some experience.”
Watson, of course, led Clemson to back-to-back national championship appearances, and Kelly Bryant looks poised to make it three in a row. Bryant has led No. 2 Clemson (5-0) to three top 15 wins this season.
“He’s a very mature young man,” Swinney said. “The biggest thing is he’s a new player, but he’s a junior. He’s not a freshman. He’s always been a very mature guy. He was just a little more raw than Deshaun coming in here as far as how far he needed to go to become a winning quarterback at this level. The best thing is for the past two years, he had a front-row seat to Deshaun Waston and how Deshaun handled himself, how he handled failure, how he handled success, how he prepared week in and week out. I think he took full advantage of that. He has great understanding and command of our offense and what we do.”
Bryant has competed 66.2 percent of his passes for 1,059 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions this season. He’s also rushed 85 times for 362 yards and seven touchdowns.
“We recruited Kelly to be Kelly,” Swinney said. “I didn’t recruit Kelly Bryant to come in here and be the next Deshaun Watson. I recruited Kelly Bryant to come in here and be the best version of Kelly Bryant, just like we do all these players.That was kind of the message to him early on, especially replacing a guy like Deshaun. (My message to him was), ‘You be who you are. That’s why we recruited you. We don’t need to try to be anything other than who you are and the best version of you.’ That’s what he’s done. There’s still a lot to coach. Every week, we just get a chance to coach that guy like he’s a freshman, yet he’s got this maturity to him of a junior. It’s been a good combination for us. I’m really happy for him because he’s put in a lot of work, his teammates love him, and it’s just good to see a guy get the fruits of his labor.”
As of now, Clemson, which defeated Auburn, Louisville, and Virginia Tech, will face just one ranked team the rest of the season: No. 24 NC State (4-1) on Nov. 4.
Is it national title or bust for Clemson?
“Not even close,” Swinney said. “We never set out to win the national championship. That’s not a goal anywhere in our building here. Never has been. We have five goals, and that’s what we shoot for every single year. The only thing that would disappoint me is if I saw a lack of commitment, if I didn’t see young people that cared about each other and came to work every day and just a team that didn’t put their best foot forward week in and week out. There’s a lot that can go into winning a national championship. That, to me, is never, ever a mindset I want to have where, ‘Oh, we didn’t win the national championship so it’s a disappointment.’ Not even close, man.”
Swinney’s goals, among others, are to win the division, win the ACC, and win a bowl game.
“Every team has its own story,” Swinney said. “Every team has its own challenges, its own journey. Success, to me, is based on the commitment that I see day in and day out. Sometimes you might run into a better team or have key injuries. There’s a lot that can go into it. But I just think every season is special. I just want us to be the best that we can be for this team. What’s for this team is for this team. All I know is that those championships and things, those are byproducts of what can happen if we are focused on our goals that we do have in place here. That’s all we’re trying to do. . . . As long as we’re a team of commitment and a team that does the right things on and off the field, I can live with whatever results we get, to be honest with you.”
Clemson hosts Wake Forest (4-1) this Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.