One Hour to Kickoff: ‘Next man up’, next game up for No. 12 Clemson

Clemson's Deshaun Watson (4) fires a pass. The Clemson Tigers played host to the Wofford Terriers at Memorial Stadium in Clemson Saturday, September 5, 2015.GWINN DAVIS / FOR POST AND COURIER

CLEMSON – The seven personnel losses in four months have been, so far, somewhat hidden by the fact Clemson wasn’t tested in week one and doesn’t figure to be tested in week two.

Soon enough, the quest for a perfect regular season will get tougher, much tougher. With two key players out with injuries (WR Mike Williams, LB/S Korrin Wiggins), one suspended (K Ammon Lakip), one leaving early for the draft (LT Isaiah Battle), one dropping football (LB Korie Rogers), one on personal leave (DT D.J. Reader) and one kicked off the team for a credit card transaction fraud arrest (DE Ebenezer Ogundeko), that’s nearly a third of the starting lineup having a starter or reserve gone for some reason for another.

“Coach Swinney’s done a great job of recruiting around here,” junior center Jay Guillermo, who himself skipped the spring attending to personal issues. “You hate to see guys go because they’ve been around here and you’ve worked with them, but it’s next man up. We’ve got plenty of guys, plenty of depth. We feel confident in the guys we have here.”

Last year’s experience-laded team was tailor-made to deal with Georgia and Florida State – both on the road – in the first 22 days of the regular season. This year’s team, as it turned out, maybe was helped by getting some young replacements in the game to iron some things out before a critical trip to Louisville and a couple home showdowns with Notre Dame and Georgia Tech.

Of course, stability at the quarterback position is worth Deshaun Watson’s weight in gold.

“It’s been a long nine months for recovering and not having a live game,” Watson said this week leading up to today’s Appalachian State game, kicking off at 12:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium. “Still have a lot more to improve on, of course, but for the first time being back out there, it was good.”

Playing perfectly – or close to it – in his first game back from ACL reconstructive surgery, Watson had to reach for points of improvement after completing 18-of-22 passes and leading five touchdowns drives in five possessions during Clemson’s 49-10 victory last Saturday vs. Wofford.

“I guess my loafs,” Watson said. “After play-fakes of zone reads, I’m supposed to sprint five steps, and I kind of pulled up on four. We’ll try to improve on that this week.”

While Watson tries to attain impeccable footwork on his loafs, the Tigers have to avoid a massive letdown in what Webster-Merriam would undoubtedly deem a “trap game.” Any national title hopeful has to be weary of the Mountaineers, after that famous upset eight years ago at then-No. 5 Michigan.

“That’s not supposed to happen, especially at the Big House,” Guillermo said. “That’s exciting to see.”

Something to remember, though, upon opening kickoff: in its five games vs. Power 5 competition since the Michigan upset, Appalachian State has lost five straight times by at least four touchdowns.