By Colby Lanham // Athletic Communications
CLEMSON, S.C. – In his first career start, quarterback Deshaun Watson threw for 435 yards and six touchdowns, as the Tigers earned their first ACC victory with a 50-35 win over the North Carolina Tar Heels. Watson’s six touchdowns made him the first Tiger in history to throw six touchdowns in a game and the first freshman in ACC history to throw for six touchdowns. His 435 passing yards in a single game were also a freshman record, and he became just the fifth ACC player, regardless of class, to throw six touchdowns in a game.
Watson has now thrown for 914 yards and 10 touchdowns, both bests in Clemson history for a first-year freshman, surpassing Wille Jordan’s previous records of 750 passing yards and five touchdowns in 1975. Watson continues to show poise beyond that of a freshman quarterback, proving himself early and often in his first career start, though he was not too surprised about what to expect in his starting debut.
“I was expecting to go out there and execute, and that’s what we did,” said Watson. “It just happened that my O-line was big and my receivers made great catches. And I’m happy with the records.”
But Watson was not the only story of the Tigers’ offense. Sophomore Germone Hopper led Clemson receivers with a career-high 139 receiving yards and two touchdowns, with Mike Williams close behind with his own career-high of 122 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Clemson finished the night with 528 total yards of offense.
“We have a lot of good young receivers, so we just have to go out there and make a lot of plays,” said Williams about the receivers’ performance. “We came in Monday, put the game against FSU to bed and got focused on North Carolina and had great preparation.”
Hopper was certainly more involved in the passing game, and he stepped up to the plate when his number was called.
“Coach (Swinney) told me before the game I would be a big part of the offense early, so I was just ready to play,” said Hopper.
Offensive Coordinator Chad Morris was pleased with the offense’s performance against the Tar Heel defense and likes what he is seeing out of an offense with a lot of young talent.
“A lot of excitement,” said Morris. “Felt like all week long, this game was a pivotal moment for our program. If we came out and played with the effort that we did last week (against Florida State) and win and play well and get better, then it’s going to set the tone for the rest of the season.
“It was really exciting to see these guys come out and play like they played, from play-two and on. We don’t have a lot of veterans on our side of the ball with experience, but we have young guys making plays, and it’ll make an old man out of you real quick, but I’m excited for the future.”
When asked about Watson’s performance moving forward, Morris certainly had some strong words about the freshman quarterback’s budding future.
“To come out and put on a performance like he did, from the second-effort throws, his patience in the pocket, his ability to see the field and extend plays with his feet…that’s what you like to see. I’m extremely proud of him, and I think he provides a spark for this football team, and not just for this offense, but the entire football team.”
The Clemson defense brought pressure early and often, including a safety courtesy of defensive end Shaq Lawson, while fellow defensive end Vic Beasley notched two sacks, bringing his career total to 27. Beasley is one short of Clemson’s all-time sack record of 28, set by Michael Dean Perry and Gaines Adams.
“We’ve been battle tested in games like Georgia and Florida State, so we know what it takes to win the big games, so we’re definitely back on track now,” said Beasley.
When asked about the sack record, Beasley said it’s one of the goals he made upon returning for his senior season.
“I came back and wanted to break that record, and I look forward to doing so.”
Head Coach Dabo Swinney loved the team’s response and its ability to bounce back from last week’s narrow loss at No. 1 Florida State.
“We did what we had to do to win. It was great to be back home. The crowd was awesome. We have another big week coming up and we’re going to have to play well against NC State.”
[View the story “#UNCvsCLEM” on Storify]
March 14, 2019