With Sooners focused on his legs, Deshaun Watson touts his strong arm

Clemson QB Deshaun Watson has confidence in both his passing game and his to scramble. "Either way I feel like I'm pretty dangerous," he said. Tyler Smith/Getty Images

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The way Oklahoma safety Ahmad Thomas sees it, the battle plan against Clemson is simple: Cage up Deshaun Watson, or watch him run all over the Sooners’ defense.

It’s the sentiment shared by each of Oklahoma’s defenders Sunday, as the Sooners held their first on-location media sessions in the run up to the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl. They compared Watson to TCU's Trevone Boykin. They talked about using athletic backup Trevor Knight to play the role of Watson on the scout team. They worried Watson's legs could be the difference in crucial situations.

“When things aren’t going well, he’s the one guy who can make a play for that team,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said.

It must be music to Watson’s ears because, while he usually squirms at the notion he’s a run-first QB, he’s more than happy to have the Sooners underestimate him because of his legs.

“It’s on them,” Watson said. “We’ll have to see what happens. They have their strategy, and we have ours.”

So what’s Clemson’s strategy?

In fairness, it has involved a hefty dose of Watson’s legs this season. Watson ran 151 times on non-sack plays this year, fifth-most by any quarterback in the nation. But against Oklahoma, that approach isn’t entirely etched in stone.

“I feel like he’ll be able to pick them apart the whole game,” tight end Jordan Leggett said of Watson’s passing game.

Indeed, the usually understated Watson enjoyed touting the strength of his arm in his session with reporters Sunday. Asked if he felt his legs made him dangerous, he quickly rattled off his counter argument.

“I would say I didn't throw 3,500 yards for no reason, and they weren't always outside the pocket,” he said. “Either way I feel like I'm pretty dangerous.”

While Oklahoma’s Charles Tapper noted it was the Sooners’ hope to force Watson to throw the ball downfield, the Clemson QB sounded like he’d be all too happy to oblige. After all, as Tigers lineman Eric Mac Lain pointed out, he’s pretty good at that.

“He’s probably the best deep-ball passer in the NCAA,” Mac Lain said, and the numbers back up his case. On throws of 25 yards or more, Watson completed 46.3 percent of his attempts (second-most in the Power 5) with a Power 5-best 13 touchdowns and a QBR of 98.9.

It’s a funny thing for a 6-foot-2, 205-pound QB with a strong arm and exceptional accuracy. If he couldn’t run, Watson would still be pegged as a strong passer, but add his athleticism into the equation and suddenly he’s no longer a quarterback. He’s a mobile quarterback, in the pejorative sense.

To that, Watson has a standard retort. Look at his good friend Cam Newton, a mobile QB now well on his way to NFL MVP honors. Or Russell Wilson, Seattle’s athletic quarterback who’s gone to the last two Super Bowls. Or check the tape of Watson’s high school days, where he rewrote the state’s record books at Gainesville High in Georgia.

“I’m 46-9, I won a state championship, and I have the most passing yards in Georgia,” Watson said. “I have 13,000 passing yards. The next one is 9,000. I think I can pass the ball.”

Not that Watson should feel the need to defend his production. The numbers speak volumes, and the rest of the talking is easy to tune out.

So perhaps Oklahoma is right to be worried about Watson’s legs. He’s been dangerous on the ground this season, to be sure. But underestimating Watson is a dangerous game, his teammates said, and Clemson’s QB can undermine a game plan quickly once he gets on the field.

Running is fine. Throwing is great. Watson is most interested in winning though, and he’ll do it by any means necessary.

“I really don’t care what people think about my game as long as I’m getting the Ws,” he said. “That says a lot right there. People can think what they do, but when I step on the field, I’ll be successful.”