CLEMSON | It was a play the great ones make in their sleep, or as close to "sleep" as is possible when 77,000 fans are screaming and defensive linemen are closing in and a game, perhaps, hangs in the balance.
It was instinct and talent and moxie - the latter Clemson coach Dabo Swinney's best word for his redshirt freshman quarterback, Kyle Parker - all rolled into one, split-second play.
In a game to, if not decide the ACC Atlantic Division title, then to put a stamp of authority on that, Clemson held a shaky 17-14 lead on Virginia less than two minutes before halftime Saturday. The Tigers faced third-and-10 from the Cavaliers' 24, and Parker dropped to pass.
Instead of receivers, all he saw was large Cavaliers. Parker, as nimble afoot as anyone this side of C.J. Spiller, ducked and dodged and seemed ready to break for the goal.
And then, without warning, his right arm a blur and his feet just shy of the line of scrimmage, Parker rifled a pass to receiver Jacoby Ford in the back of the end zone, a touchdown destined for the Tigers' highlight video.
"I thought he was gonna run it, but I just didn't take the play off," Ford said. "He made a play, just threw to me."
At the end of Clemson's history-making 34-21 victory, Parker wouldn't say it was his best play of a year full of big plays. "I was talking to coach McCorvey (assistant Woody) on the sideline and I told him, 'I guess it's better to be lucky that good.'
"I was about to run, then I saw (Ford) open, so ..."
So Parker fired a laser shot, side-armed no less, that rivaled anything he has shown in two seasons with the Tigers' baseball team.
He laughed. "Coach (Jack) Leggett taught me that," he said.
No. The Tigers' longtime baseball coach wouldn't try to take credit for that one, any more than Swinney would. It was unadulterated talent and killer instinct, pure and simple.
If you're looking for the difference between a Clemson team that began this season 2-3, but has gone 6-0 since, look no farther than the blond-haired wraith under center.
His stats line vs. Virginia - 19-of-26 passing for 234 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions - was a continuation of Parker's emergence. How good was he? His first 10 passes, for 128 yards, included nary an incompletion.
"He did?" Ford said, shaking his head and grinning. "I didn't know that."
His signature play, though, did not surprise Ford.
"Kyle's an instinct guy," he said. "He does a great job with his eyes; he can look one way, throw another."
Then Ford said what others are thinking: "He's going to be one of the best players to come out of this college."
C.J. Spiller gets most of the publicity, and rightly so; Ford matches Spiller in the burner and "big play" department. But Parker - he's the difference.
Just ask Swinney, whose 40th birthday a day late was nothing short of wonderful.
"That's (Parker's pass to Ford) just great ability," he said. "He understands where everyone is (on each play) and he keeps his eyes up. That's poise under pressure."
Of course, all that is why Parker, despite growing pains on the field through the first half of the season, is starting and longtime quarterback heir apparent Willy Korn is riding the bench.
Parker always has had the talent. But through Clemson's first five games, he learned - sometimes the hard way - that talent alone is not enough.
His completion percentage hovered below .500. His interceptions (five) matched his touchdowns. Parker needed more: more preparation, more focus, more commitment.
And that, said offensive coordinator Billy Napier, is what he has done the past six weeks.
"He's managed the game well, and he's grown up each week, gotten a little bit better each week," Napier, himself a "rookie" running the offense, said. "The past two weeks have been his best performances, and there's still more out there for him."
Some of the biggest plays of Clemson's season have come from Parker's strong right arm. At Miami, the 40-37 overtime victory that defines the Tigers' season, his third-down, 26-yard strike to Ford was the game-winner.
Two weeks later, his 18-of-30, 242-yard, four-touchdown game crushed Florida State, setting the stage for Saturday. Each week, through work and preparation on the field and in the film room, Parker steps toward a bright future.
"He's figuring it out," Swinney said. "He's figured out how to prepare, pay more attention to detail, and Billy's done a great job with him.
"No question, the development of our quarterback has been huge. Kyle 'gets it'; he's as smart a freshman as I've been around. And as he's improved, we've gotten better and better."
How good? Even Parker can't say.
"I think just being more consistent, making the plays that are there," he said. "I see the game a lot clearer. I'm not trying to create plays; that's what you learn when you go out and play a lot of games."
But sometimes, instinct takes precedence. Sometimes, talent flashes, and coaches shake their heads and are thankful to have both in a player.
In Parker, Clemson has both. On nights like this, it makes the difference.