After Watson injury, Clemson offense falls flat

Deshaun Watson crumpled to the ground with a knee injury in the first quarter of Saturday’s game at Georgia Tech. Following him to the sidelines went the Tigers’ chances of victory.

Backup quarterback Cole Stoudt had as many interceptions (three) as completions, and the Tigers’ offense totaled a season-low 190 yards in a 28-6 defeat at Bobby Dodd Stadium.

“As bad an offensive game as I’ve ever been around, ever,” coach Dabo Swinney said.

Clemson failed to score a touchdown in a game for the first time since a 13-3 loss at Tech in 2007.

Swinney wouldn’t confirm a report that Watson, a freshman from Gainesville, suffered a torn ACL. He said an MRI was necessary, but he didn’t sound optimistic that Watson will return for the final two games. The injury occurred as Watson planted his left knee in an attempt to cut.

Swinney also refused to blame Stoudt, saying that everyone has to take ownership for the loss. However, neither Swinney nor offensive coordinator Chad Morris would say that Stoudt will start the next game, Saturday against Georgia State. Instead, if Watson can’t return, Stoudt may compete with Grayson’s Nick Schuessler for the starter’s job.

“We’ve got to put it back together,” Morris said.

Stoudt had been more than serviceable this season, going 4-2 as a starter. He won the starter’s job in the spring, lost it after the defeat to Florida State in the third game and then got it back again after Watson suffered a broken finger in the win against Louisville on Oct. 11. Saturday’s start was Watson’s first since that game. Before Saturday, Stoudt passed for more than 1,400 yards with five touchdowns, five interceptions and a 63.4 percentage completion rate.

But he could do little right against a rapidly improving Tech defense and couldn’t offer any reason other than “things just didn’t go right.”

When asked, he said that he didn’t receive any reps with the first-team offense during the week.

The Tigers had 77 yards of offense with Watson under center and were inside Tech’s 15-yard line when he suffered his injury.

Stoudt came in and promptly threw the first of two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. Morris said he needed to review film to diagnose what happened on the interceptions.

Swinney was sure that turnovers can’t happen if Clemson expects to win.

It was the third consecutive game that the Tigers lost the turnover battle, but the first loss after wins against Syracuse and Wake Forest in which they had six turnovers compared with three takeaways. The Tigers were minus-1 in turnovers this season before Saturday.

“It finally caught up to us,” he said.