NFL won't overlook Deshaun Watson's troubling turnovers in win over Louisville
The projected first-round pick struggled more than you think in his team's win
Serving as a perfect capper to an exhilarating Week 5 in college football, dueling dual-threat quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson delivered on all of the pregame hype, accounting for 854 all-purpose yards and eight total touchdowns in a wacky ACC showdown of top-five teams.
Ultimately, Watson and the Tigers made the big plays when it mattered most, outlasting the visiting Cardinals to win 42-36. Completing 20 of 31 passes for 306 yards and five touchdowns -- including the game-winner with just 3:14 remaining -- Watson has been praised in the media, even winning the Walter Camp FBS Player of the Week award for his performance.
It wasn't just the number of turnovers from Watson's game that was frustrating for scouts projecting him to the next level.
Some of the mistakes he made, including his first and "fourth" interceptions (the "fourth" came on a two-point try and didn't officially count in his total) of the night, were disappointing for a quarterback considered a candidate for the No. 1 overall pick next spring.
Take the first interception, which occurred at the 11:12 mark in the second quarter with Clemson trailing 7-0.
Moments after Jackson started the scoring in this game, Watson and the Tigers looked to be on the verge of responding, marching down the field on a seven-play drive to start the second quarter. Rather than culminate the series with a score, however, Watson left a slant intended for wideout Williams too far behind his receiver, allowing Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander to steal what should have been an easy touchdown.
Simple inaccuracy from the pocket also was the culprit on Watson's "fourth" interception of the game, which technically didn't count as it came on a failed two-point conversion attempt.
If the interception didn't count in the box score, it certainly will in the minds of NFL scouts, who saw Watson telegraph his throw to Williams and fail to put enough loft on the ball, resulting in Louisville linebacker Keith Kelsey tipping it into the waiting hands of his teammate Stacy Johnson. Once Johnson was tackled, the play was ruled simply a failed PAT and not an actual turnover.
To be fair, Watson was superb when he needed to be, once again showing the resilience that has scouts so intrigued despite his relatively slim build at 6-foot-2 and 210 pounds as well as his occasional inaccuracy.
After starting off just one for his first six, Watson reeled off 10 completions of 12 attempts (including three touchdowns) in a wild second quarter to help the Tigers leap out to a 28-10 lead.
Watson's first touchdown toss of the night was his easiest, as he simply lofted a deep ball down the left sideline to a wide-open Deon Cain. The pass was actually a little underthrown but it was fired with the right velocity and trajectory to take advantage of a late reaction from Louisville's secondary, allowing Cain to simply back into the end zone.
After a 24-yard sprint for a score from teammate and fellow exciting NFL prospect Wayne Gallman pushed the Tigers ahead at 14-7, Watson delivered his prettiest pass of the night, raising Cain again with another deep ball to the speedy sophomore receiver.
Unlike the earlier touchdown, Watson led his receiver beautifully on this snap, taking full advantage of the step Cain had gained and placing the ball on the receivers' outstretched fingertips for a highlight-reel score. Watson completed the second quarter hat trick just before the half with a quick strike slant to the right to Artavis Scott for a five-yard touchdown.
Further, he delivered in the clutch late, hitting Williams and Jordan Leggett in stride for his latest fourth-quarter heroics.
Make no mistake, though. Watson had plenty of help.
Literally seconds after Jackson gave Louisville's its largest lead of the game at 36-28 with just under 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Clemson kick returner Artavis Scott seized back the momentum for Tigers with a 77-yard return that gave Watson the ball at the 23-yard line.
After a Watson carry for three of his 91 rushing yards on the day, the dual-threat passer calmly fired a strike on a skinny post to Williams over the middle. The powerful 6-foot-3, 220-pound Williams simply bulldozed over a Louisville defender into the end zone, erasing much of Louisville's lead after just three plays.
The ultimate game-winner was another example of a touchdown that looks better on the resume than on film, with Watson hitting a wide-open Leggett on a simple crosser and the athletic tight end simply weaving his way through a gassed Cardinals defense to retake the lead.
Take nothing away from Watson and Tigers. They survived an emotional and hard-fought game by making the biggest plays in the biggest moments.
But in terms of his projection to the NFL, Watson's mistakes won't be so easily overlooked.
In fact, with Notre Dame's flashier redshirt sophomore DeShone Kizer throwing for a career-high 471 yards and three touchdowns to beat Syracuse, whatever edge Watson may have held atop the quarterback rankings is very much in peril.
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