(AP) – Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson understands the higher stakes this week for the third-ranked Tigers (No. 1 in College Football Playoff poll) against No. 17 Florida State (No. 16 in CFP poll) and plans to keep calm the only way he knows how – by not thinking too much about it.
“My main focus right now is getting these tests done this week and finishing up school,” he said Monday. “And then football.”
The football is on many other minds this week.
The Tigers (8-0, 5-0 ACC), voted No. 1 in this week’s initial College Football Playoff rankings, can lock up a spot in the league’s title game Saturday when they face banged-up Florida State (7-1, 5-1). They can also exact a measure of revenge from a couple of years ago. The Seminoles scored the most points ever by an opponent in stadium history in a 51-14 Death Valley debacle that spoiled Clemson’s last long, undefeated run to start a season in 2013.
Watson was just a high school senior watching in the stands in that game.
The quarterback said players won’t worry about what happened in the past with Florida State, even though the Tigers have lost four of the past five meetings in the series – all which determined the ACC Atlantic Division winner.
That should happen again. If Clemson wins, it will be 6-0 in the league with every other division opponent having at least two losses. Should the Tigers lose, Florida State would have the tiebreaker in the battle of one-loss teams.
“Regardless what the past has brought to us, we’re still going to be motivated just because of the opportunity we have,” Watson said. “Each week is the biggest game of the week and now this is the biggest game.”
And Watson could be the biggest difference maker.
He was pitch perfect last week when Clemson’s highly rated defense stumbled, passing for 383 yards and five touchdowns in the 56-41 victory over North Carolina State. Watson also rushed for a touchdown. His performance earned him national offensive player of the week honors by the Walter Camp Foundation, along with the ACC weekly award as the top offensive back.
Florida State enters off a 45-21 home win over Syracuse where the Seminoles were without injured starters in quarterback Everett Golson and tailback Dalvin Cook.
During the open part of Tuesday’s practice, Golson was doing all the drills while Cook was also a participant and was doing his work without an ankle brace.
Cook, the nation’s second-leading rusher, did not practice last week after suffering an ankle injury in a 22-16 loss at Georgia Tech on Oct. 17. With Cook sidelined, freshman Jacques Patrick rushed for 162 yards and three touchdowns against Syracuse.
Cook has been dealing with a hamstring injury the past four weeks, but coach Jimbo Fisher said Monday the only injury concern with Cook right now is the ankle.
Golson remains listed as the starting quarterback on the depth chart, but was held out last Saturday due to a concussion. Golson did practice last week and was not listed on the injury report.
Sean Maguire, who got his second career start last week, threw for 349 yards and three touchdowns. Maguire started last year’s 23-17 win over Clemson and passed for 304 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
Fisher did not discount the possibility that both quarterbacks could play Saturday.
“We have two guys, we know now they can come in and play very well,” Fisher said. “Both have had outstanding games throughout this season. Everett has had a 370-yard game. Sean has had a 350-yard game. We feel very comfortable with them.”
Florida State tied a season high for points and had its second-highest offensive yardage total this year despite missing Golson and Cook.
When asked if he thought he would start against Clemson, Maguire said it was up to Fisher.
“That’s coach Fisher’s problem. I can only cause him problems, I guess,” Maguire said.
Fisher was most disappointed with Florida State’s special teams last week, which allowed a punt return TD.
“We’ll get that cleaned up and get better and get ready to play a great Clemson team,” Fisher said.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was pleased his team was able to win ugly this past weekend and continue its longest win streak (11 straight games) since the program’s national championship season of 1981.
“For our guys to keep finding a way to win every week is a beautiful thing,” Swinney said. “It’s come in a lot of different ways.”