Early last season provided as much QB controversy as there’s been in a good while around Clemson. After his display under the gun at FSU, there was little quibbling over Deshaun Watson’s role as starter – just as there won’t be going into 2015.
But the trio of Nick Schuessler (junior), Kelly Bryant (freshman) and Tucker Israel (freshman) have to be ready. Clemson found out how critical, and just how tough that spot-duty role can be in a roller-coaster campaign for Cole Stoudt.
The fourth-year senior came into ‘14 with a career 72.3 completion percentage, but stumbled out of the gates to a 1-2 mark as a starter with a 63.1 completion mark, with one touchdown and one interception.
Pressed into action against Louisville, Stoudt did just enough (20-of-33 for 162 yards, 1 INT) to keep the Tigers in it and the No. 1 defense made a goalline stand for the win. In the same spot weeks later at Georgia Tech, it didn’t go as smooth, to say the least, completing just 3-of-11 passes for 19 yards and three interceptions (two pick-sixes).
A clear No. 2 out of the spring, Schuessler, who saw action in that same Tech game (4-4 for 19 yards), says it’s no easy role.
“I think it’s just a thankless job,” he said. “People expect if you are on the football team and you’re thrown out there and the plays are downloaded in your head with no preparation. With coach we do a great job every week of preparing like the starter. If I’m not getting the reps in practice, I’m getting the mental reps.
“Yes, it’s a lot easier when you’re getting the physical reps, but the coaches do such a good job of getting us mental reps and any given moment you’re ready to step out there.
Clemson’s head coach is non-committal on the expected redshirt for at least one of the mid-years, although he admits there’s an ideal scenario to unfold in the coming months.
“There’s no way to tell between now and September. My message to them is for all four of them to prepare as the starter,” Dabo Swinney said in an interview on WCCP 105.5 recently. “If they don’t prepare that way, they’re really cheating themselves and cheating this team. They have to be ready…In a perfect world, you’d love to say Nick’s the backup and once we get through fall camp we’re going to redshirt this guy and we’re going to try to get this guy a little experience.
“You’d love to do that. There’s no way to know that right now.”
Swinney says developing that top-three will be vital, however.
“We'll cross those bridges when we come to it,” he said. “Certainly don’t want to waste a guy, but we have to have four quarterbacks ready to go. You can’t rep four, but we have to get four knowing what to do and preparing if needed. Definitely for sure, Deshaun and Nick and one of those guys has to be that third-team guy that instantly becomes the backup if you get an injury.”
For Schuessler, he’s positioned himself well and looks to build on that this summer.
“I want to work on my footwork and physically put some more weight on before fall camp,” he said.