Clemson offense focuses on slow starts during bye week

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson threw two interceptions in the Tigers’ 20-17 victory over Louisville on Thursday. AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

CLEMSON — Opening drives have left something to be desired in all three of No. 11 Clemson’s victories this season.

The Tigers’ first possession of the season left star wide receiver Mike Williams with a serious neck injury, as Williams was in the act of leaping high to catch a touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson — who also was shaky earlier in that drive on passes to Artavis Scott and Ray-Ray McCloud.

The second and third games saw Watson throw interceptions to start games against Appalachian State and Louisville. Those are two of Watson’s three picks on the season.

So it’s been a point to ponder: Is Watson a little too anxious to start the game?

“Every game, I’m really emotional, just because of my experience of last year, missing half the year. That was my first time ever missing extended time from football,” Watson said Monday.

“We came out and started a little slow (at Louisville,) but that’s going to happen. Not every game is going to be perfect. It’s kind of hard to be perfect in this game or this sport. It was good to get the win.”

Watson hasn’t been quite as dynamic as he was in limited duty during his freshman year. His completion percentage is high (74.4), but his yards per attempt, which led the nation in 2014 with 10.7, has lowered to a mortal 8.2 yards a pass, and he already has more interceptions than he did in all of 2014, on 59 fewer attempts.

“I’m just taking what the defense gives me,” Watson said. “I guess I forced certain passes throughout the game, but I’m getting back to the basics and doing what (quarterbacks coach Brandon) Streeter’s coaching me to do.”

Head coach Dabo Swinney actually absolved Watson of his first of two interceptions against Louisville, saying Cardinals linebacker James Burgess was able to break free of coverage early since Scott cut his route too soon. Burgess snagged Watson’s delivery with one hand in front of Tigers tight end Jordan Leggett.

“We don’t have any concerns about Deshaun. Obviously, he’s a very talented guy,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “You miss one or two throws — turn on the TV (Sunday) and watch (Tom) Brady miss one or two.

“Deshaun’s his toughest critic. He’ll continue to work hard. I think it’s more, to be honest, overall execution coming out. Just really the whole group, not really on one person. That’s what we’re focused on this week.”

Although the Tigers didn’t earn many style points by beating winless Louisville by a field goal, they did remain unblemished. If anything was lost, it was Watson’s momentum toward national awards; he dropped in Bovada.com’s Heisman Trophy odds tracker to 20-to-1, the same as former Clemson quarterback and current Mississippi starter Chad Kelly.

“My mind is not on the Heisman right now,” Watson said. “I’m just here to do my part and get wins. If I win the Heisman, then you know, I’m happy for me, but I’m just focused on the team and doing what we have to do.”

Watson will take a 7-1 record as a starter into the Tigers’ Oct. 3 game against Notre Dame.

“I’m going to be patient. Whatever teams give us, I’m going to take,” he said. “If I had 400 yards every game, then that’s what happens, but as long as we get that W, it’s all good with me.”