CLEMSON – Well, suffice to say Ray-Ray McCloud didn’t languish in self pity in the aftermath of the biggest gaffe of his football-playing life.
Just one week removed from turning a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown into a 74-yard punt return and fumble, McCloud effectively put that ugly incident in his rear view mirror – much like he did the S.C. State defense on multiple occasions in Clemson’s 59-0 romp Saturday afternoon.
McCloud had 116 all-purpose yards, giving him 298 all-purpose yards in the past two games and reinforcing his status as the Tigers’ most versatile game changer.
Interestingly, the best reception McCloud was on the receiving end of last week was a message from former Utah and current NFL player Kaelin Clay, who committed a similar miscue that cost his team a touchdown against Oregon in 2014.
So what advice did Clay impart?
“He said, ‘Don’t let it define you,’ ” McCloud said.
McCloud obviously hasn’t.
He responded with two touchdown catches Saturday, covering 7 and 36 yards, and returned three punts for 56 yards.
"It was about having a short-term memory," McCloud said. "That's what all great players have. Just keep playing football. In life you're going to make mistakes; you've got to get back up."
The sophomore from Tampa, Florida, has amassed 152 yards on six punt returns this season, which ranks him second nationally with an average of 25.3 yards per return and provides the Tigers with a weapon they haven’t enjoyed for quite some time.
“I want to make a big difference on special teams,” McCloud said.
Clemson hasn’t had a player capable of providing a comparable threat on special teams since C.J. Spiller averaged a gaudy 26.3 yards – albeit on only eight returns – in 2009.
McCloud possesses the speed and elusiveness to bring back any punt for a score, so his teammates know that any block they make could mean the difference between a modest return or game-changing play.
“It’s nice to see our guys taking pride in the return game,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Ray-Ray is such a weapon for us.”
He also could loom large Thursday night when Clemson plays at Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are surrendering 14.3 yards per punt return, which ranks 112th out of 127 Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
McCloud also is in line to receive his second straight start in place of Hunter Renfrow, who is sidelined with a hand injury.
“We knew that it was time to tighten up,” McCloud said. “And now I’m more comfortable with the speed of the game; it’s like night and day.
“I’m having more fun with my teammates and everything is more comfortable for me now.”
Scott Keepfer, The Greenviille News