Stopping Deshaun Watson is tall task for Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State’s Chris Worley speaks at media day on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center in Columbus. David Jablonski/Staff
Ohio State’s Chris Worley speaks at media day on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016, at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center in Columbus. David Jablonski/Staff

Clemson quarterback has been interception prone this season

J.T. Barrett and Deshaun Watson got to know each other at the Elite 11 quarterback camp in 2015 at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore. Ever since then, the Ohio State Buckeyes and Clemson Tigers quarterbacks have kept in touch, sending encouraging text messages before big games and talking from time to time.

“Understand that quarterbacks have an elite little fraternity with Elite 11,” Barrett said, “so we’re just keeping that tight.”

Barrett, a redshirt junior, and Watson, a true junior, will see each other again on New Year’s Eve when No. 3 Ohio State (11-1) plays No. 2 Clemson (12-1) in the College Football Playoff semifinals. The Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., will give Ohio State a chance to avenge a 40-35 loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3, 2014.

Watson, the top-ranked dual threat quarterback in the class of 2014, enrolled at Clemson in January 2014, not long after that game. He was one of five early enrollees at Clemson that month.

Watson seized the starting job four games into his freshman season and has lived up the hype ever since. Stopping the Heisman Trophy finalist will be the biggest task for Ohio State’s defense on Dec. 31.

“He’s as talented a guy as we’ve faced,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said. “That’s no secret, probably. He’s got incredible arm strength. He’s a very mobile athlete. He doesn’t choose to (run) a ton, but when he does, he’s as good as there is running the ball as well. He’s thrown 65 yards in the air on tape, so I’m sure he can throw it 80 yards. He’s a freakish-type football player, and there’s going to be several of those on that field that night — both teams.”

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Watson ranks 11th in the nation in passing yards per game (301.1). One spot ahead of him is another quarterback Ohio State faced: Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield (305.8).

“Mayfield was more apt to scramble and create off the scramble, not that (Watson) isn’t,” Schiano said. “He’s really got a big arm. If he can perform from the pocket with that big arm he can be really (dangerous). What’s troublesome is that when he’s scrambling and the receivers take off, it can be a problem because he can jet.”

If Watson had a weakness this season, it was that he was prone to throw interceptions. He threw 37 touchdowns but 15 interceptions. In Clemson’s lone loss, 43-42 to Pittsburgh on Nov. 12, he threw three touchdowns and three interceptions.

“He always has his composure no matter what happens during a game,” Ohio State linebacker Chris Worley said. “Whether he throws a pick, when he comes back out there he’s going to be composed and he’s going to put his team in the best position to win. One of the things about Clemson and Deshaun, he has great talent around him. He doesn’t have to do it all by himself.”

Defensive end Tyquan Lewis said Ohio State will have to move Watson out of the pocket but be aware of where he is at all times. Getting hands up to bat down passes will also be key.

“The key to it is the pressure on the inside,” Lewis said, “and then the two defensive ends they have to cage the pocket and keep him closed in. That usually leads to a sack.”


Ohio State vs. Clemson, 7 p.m., Dec. 31, ESPN, 1410

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