Clemson’s offense has had its ups and downs through the first four games, but the same can’t be said for Ray-Ray McCloud at receiver.
The sophomore made his presence felt yet again in third-ranked Clemson’s 26-7 win over Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Thursday night, when he led the team with eight catches and 101 yards receiving.
It was the first 100-yard receiving game for McCloud in his career, while he also matched a personal best with the eight receptions.
After recording just two catches for eight yards in the season opener at Auburn, McCloud has burst into the forefront of Clemson’s offense over the last three games with a total of 19 catches for 247 yards and two touchdowns.
McCloud’s 255 yards receiving so far this season ranks 35th in the country.
“Ray-Ray continues to have dominant performances,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said after the game. “Some big plays, some big third downs.”
As Swinney alluded to, McCloud’s catches often came in big spots.
On Clemson’s first possession of the game, a pair of 17-yard plays by McCloud helped move Clemson into scoring territory and set up a touchdown pass from Deshaun Watson to fellow receiver Mike Williams.
Two drives later, McCloud hauled in an 18-yard pass on third and 9 to move the chains and position Clemson near the red zone. Three plays later, Wayne Gallman found the end zone on a 1-yard run to give the Tigers a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.
During Clemson’s final drive before halftime, Watson linked up with McCloud a 10-yard pass to convert a third and 5.
Clemson co-offense coordinator Tony Elliott said McCloud benefited from Georgia Tech’s focus on Williams defensively.
“You noticed early on they started playing some Cover 2 into the boundary over Mike, so we weren’t able to get him the ball,” Elliott said. “So, we had to go to the field, and Ray-Ray made the plays.”
McCloud wasn’t surprised by the Yellow Jackets’ soft coverage, and he took advantage of it.
“We’ve been watching film all week for them, watching last year, too, and they did a lot of soft coverage,” McCloud said. “So, we were prepared.”
McCloud has been a critical part of Clemson’s offense this season, but in his mind, he’s just one of 11 players on the unit.
“I wouldn’t say I’m a major part of the offense,” McCloud said. “We have 11 players out there grinding, so it really starts from the O-line, from Deshaun having time. I just go out there and do my job.”
Throughout the offseason and fall camp, Clemson’s coaching staff raved about McCloud’s work ethic and improved maturity both on and off the field.
It has carried over onto the game field thus far, and McCloud has made a sizable impact in Clemson’s attack.
“He’s a year older, he’s a year stronger, he understands the system better and what you’re seeing is he’s playing fast,” Elliott said. “I think everybody knew, coming out of high school, that he’s one of the most dynamic playmakers and athletes in the country.
“Once it started to slow down for him at this level, now you’re seeing that explosiveness and a guy that continues to make plays.”