Ray-Ray McCloud had never played cornerback in his college career before Saturday night at N.C. State.
Clemson’s season was on the line and the Wolfpack were driving for the game-tying touchdown when McCloud was given the responsibility of covering N.C. State leading receiver Kelvin Harmon.
On paper McCloud was at a big disadvantage, but he had no doubt he was ready to help the Tigers get a stop.
“Me, I play ball,” McCloud said after Clemson hung on for a 38-31 win. “My mindset is different. I just go out there and I’m confident. That’s just how I am.”
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N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley immediately went after McCloud with the Wolfpack at midfield and 48 seconds remaining.
Finley found Harmon for a 22-yard gain on a back-shoulder throw on the first play McCloud was in, and tried to come right back to it. But this time McCloud was step-for-step with Harmon and the pass fell incomplete.
Finley did not throw at McCloud the rest of the game. He did a good job of blanketing Harmon, who has 51 catches for 799 yards and four touchdowns this season.
“I just played football, man. The team’s depending on you. You’re one-on-one… Just be out there and have fun, and just have a short-term memory,” McCloud said. “He caught a back-shoulder on me, and I was just trying to get my technique back together. I obviously don’t practice it 24-7 like a regular DB does so I kind of have to work on little things even more.”
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said he was a little worried about the matchup but after the game Swinney said McCloud was impressive in coverage.
“I think we had a couple of two-man calls, and I’m trying to say, ‘Hey, let’s loosen that two-man up just a little bit here,’ ” Swinney joked. “Ray-Ray thinks he’s 6-5, 250, which sometimes is good and sometimes is not so good. It was an excellent job.”
McCloud worked at cornerback in fall camp and has gotten a limited amount of reps at defensive back throughout the season.
Clemson ramped up McCloud’s work at cornerback prior to the N.C. State game, anticipating that it would need the junior with Mark Fields and Marcus Edmond out.
McCloud responded well against one of the ACC’s best quarterbacks and passing attacks.
“Ray-Ray is a natural. He’s just gifted,” Swinney said. “He just gives us a swag and a confidence at corner because he’s just very fluid there, and he’s tough.”
McCloud, who has 34 catches for 354 yards and a touchdown, did not catch a pass against the Wolfpack, but in addition to helping out at defensive back he also returned a punt 77 yards for a score.
“He played corner, played receiver, had the punt return. Just really proud of him,” Swinney said. “Ray-Ray’s really, really gifted. He could be a great corner. He’s just one of those guys that can play either side of the ball. And he’s dynamic when he touches it.”
Who: Clemson (8-1, 5-1 ACC) vs. FSU (3-5, 3-4)
When: 3:30 p.m., Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium
TV: ESPN Radio: 93.1 FM