It took only 2 passes for Deshaun Watson to make his mark in college football. The bullet Watson threw to Charone Peake in the 2014 opener in Sanford Stadium zinged by the ear of a Georgia linebacker and into the arms of Peake for a touchdown.
As the season went on the difference that Watson makes became apparent. With Watson in the game the Tigers averaged 6.8 yards per play, 2 yards more than with Cole Stoudt running the team.
Simple math would seem to indicate that by adding 2 yards per play under Watson that the Tigers would end up with about 150 more yards (assuming 75 plays) per game and about 12 or 13 additional points.
However, that equation doesn’t take into account the defensives Watson faced – an average ranking of 97 (Stoudt’s average was 49).
The numbers below are calculated using an “average” (61st ranking) and they show the difference a tougher defensive can have on Watson’s yard per play average.
Without Watson Clemson would have a 44.7% win probability and gain 380 yards and an “average” FBS offense would have likely been enough to get over the hump at 51.1% win probability.
With Watson in the lineup the Tigers would be projected to average 6.16 yards per play, more than a yard more per play than without him, but far below Watson’s 6.8 yard per play average in 2014 – that’s the difference between facing a 97th ranked defense and a 61st ranked D.
If that increase seems low to you, remember competition matters. In the S.C. State, North Carolina and South Carolina games Watson was electric, but those defenses were not competitive in 2014.
That 61st ranked defense in 2014? It was Florida State, a game in which Watson played the majority of snaps.
Deshaun Watson is likely improved over last season, but that doesn’t mean we should expect 6.8 or more yards per play because the defenses he faces, assuming he plays a full season, are likely to be better on average, too.