Not programmed to receive: Clemson still seeking go-to wideout
CLEMSON -- Jacoby Ford on his way to the NFL snagged a 26-yard line drive from Kyle Parker -- on third-and-11, no less -- to give Clemson a season-altering overtime win at Miami last Oct. 24.
The No. 16 Hurricanes are due at Death Valley on Saturday for what projects as another thriller.
But with Ford playing for the Oakland Raiders, the thinking fan is hard pressed to name a current Tigers wide receiver reliable enough to make a similar game-winning catch in that always hectic Miami traffic.
Clemson, in preparing for its Atlantic Coast Conference opener, went through weeks of spring drills, longer and hotter August weeks of preseason camp, easy wins over North Texas and Presbyterian, and a 27-24 overtime loss at Auburn. Plus a bye week.
So far, the wide receivers look great in Tiger Walk and better in warmups.
But no one has stepped forward as the "go-to guy."
The group seemed to step back at Auburn.
Head coach Dabo Swinney, a former walk-on wide receiver at Alabama and former receivers coach at Clemson, appeared to grab and slightly push graduate student wideout Terrance Ashe after a dropped pass early in the game.
Later, Parker stepped between a heated Swinney and senior receiver Xavier Dye, with the quarterback apparently taking the blame for miscommunication after an incompletion.
Swinney remains typically upbeat, citing several reasons and as many possible breakthrough candidates.
The group includes Dye, redshirt sophomore Jaron Brown and junior Marquan Jones (the projected Saturday starters), plus redshirt freshman Bryce McNeal, junior Brandon Clear, freshman DeAndre Hopkins and Ashe.
"Jaron is a guy who has impressed us and showed us that he can be a big-play guy for us. He's done it," Swinney said Tuesday. "Xavier didn't have many opportunities early, and then all of the sudden at Auburn -- boom -- he took advantage of some opportunities and made some plays.
"Brandon Clear has made some big plays with his opportunities. Bryce McNeal, I think, is a special, special player. He's another guy who has shown some flashes. He's made a couple big plays for us. Marquan has been very steady. I wouldn't say I'm surprised, but it's been good to see him have a little success.
"Ashe has been around here a long time. We pretty much know what we have in Terrence. Obviously, he did not take advantage of his opportunity that he had in the Auburn game, and that was disappointing. But he's one of those guys who just as soon as you get ready to write him off, he'll make a big play for you."
The last Miami game, for instance.
Ashe, among his 11 catches in 2009, grabbed two passes for 26 yards during the big win in South Florida. A former walk-on from Cheraw, Ashe won the 2009 Hustle Award on offense in a vote of teammates and led Tigers receivers in knockdown blocks.
He is on a short leash against Miami.
Though it might get longer by default.
Parker, as a redshirt sophomore, is third in the ACC in passing efficiency (behind Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor), but most of his leading receivers are non-wideouts: Tight end Dwayne Allen has eight catches, running backs Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper have five apiece and Jones leads the wideouts with five catches.
Harper (three) and Allen (one) have combined for four of Clemson's nine touchdown receptions.
"All of those guys have made big plays," Swinney said of his wide receivers. "Every one of them has come through with a big play. But I think over the next two or three weeks you'll see a little separation; I'd be surprised if you don't. Hopefully, they all continue to make a contribution and all can do well with whatever opportunities they're given, but I think over the next two or three weeks, you'll see three or four guys that will probably emerge a little bit more."
Better a tad late than never as Clemson enters eight straight Saturdays of ACC action directly followed by a visit from a program with a quarterback controversy but plenty of good receivers.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-5593.