Ray Ray McCloud: The Ace Up Clemson’s Sleeve

An offense will falter if there’s only one player pushing it along. The Clemson Tigers understand this and have found the player as well as the methods to use him to improve their offense. Sean Cottrell demonstrates how Clemson utilizes the dynamic, play-making ability of Ray Ray McCloud to make up for an otherwise anemic offense.

Through the first four weeks of the 2016 college football season, much has been made of the Clemson Tigers’ struggle to create offense. After fighting through a tough battle with Auburn in Jordan-Hare Stadium to open the season, Clemson surprisingly struggled to put points on the board in their second game versus Troy before finally breaking through offensively in Week 3 versus South Carolina State.

Entering their Week 4 matchup with previously undefeated Georgia Tech in a hostile environment on Thursday night, the Tigers needed to find a way to gain some momentum offensively. When playing a veer or triple option team such as Georgia Tech, or any of the service academies for that matter, it is critical to establish control of the game quickly. These teams do not like to throw the ball and as a result, their quarterbacks are generally less experienced and tend to be below average passers. If the Tigers scored early, it would force Georgia Tech to throw the ball more than they would have planned to which would play right into the teeth of the Clemson defense. If the Tigers allowed the Yellow Jackets to get an early lead, however, it could be a long and exhausting night for the defense fighting to stop the run and a frustrating night for the offense watching the game from the sideline.

After physically dominating and almost single-handedly defeating Auburn in Week 1, Clemson star wide receiver Mike Williams has been a focal point for opposing defensive coordinators. Despite all of his physical talent, though, the Tigers needed someone else to step up and make some plays on offense. Enter sophomore receiver Ray Ray McCloud. Since being nearly invisible versus Auburn, McCloud has had a major impact on Clemson’s offense. After catching seven passes for 86 yards in Week 2, he put up 60 yards on four catches and two touchdowns in Week 3, and it became clear early on in Week 4 that Clemson wanted to get the ball into his hands from the outset.

Generously listed at 5’10, 180 lbs, McCloud does not have the physical presence nor ability to dominate at the catch point like Williams. On Thursday night, however, Clemson did an excellent job of manufacturing ways to put the ball in his hands, allowing him to make plays and provide a spark for the Tiger’s offense. The plays highlighted below break down some of the different ways McCloud was used.

The first time McCloud got involved was on Clemson’s opening drive. The Tigers have the ball on their own 42 yard line on 2nd down with nine yards to go for a first down. They line up with 21 personnel in a two-back open gun formation with bunched twin receivers to the wide side of the field. Georgia Tech matches with their 4-2-5 nickel personnel with a three deep shell over the top.

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At the snap, Clemson QB DeShaun Watson (#4) fakes a handoff to running back Wayne Gallman (#9) and starts out to his left on an option look the second back to his left. As this is occurring, however, McCloud (#34) turns and runs back across the formation as Watson flips him the ball on a reverse. As McCloud gets to the edge, he cuts back inside of the Georgia Tech defensive end who is aggressively racing to seal the edge, and then gives another defender a dead leg move he will never forget before lowering his shoulder into the cornerback and picking up another three yards after contact. Watching this play should make it clear why the Clemson coaching staff feels the need to get the ball into McCloud’s hands.

Just three plays later on the same drive, Clemson again manufactures another touch for McCloud. It is second and four from the Yellow Jacket’s 21 yard line and Clemson is in 11 personnel in a Gun i-Left alignment with slot formation to wide side of the field and a single receiver to the boundary. Georgia Tech is in their base 4-3 alignment with one high safety and another down inside the box. Prior to the snap, McCloud goes into fly motion across the formation from the wide side of the field.

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Just before McCloud crosses his face, Watson calls for the snap and flips it to McCloud on the fly sweep as TE Milan Richard (#80) gets outside to seal the middle linebacker inside and Gallman does a great job kicking out the strong side LB and paving a path for McCloud to get downfield for a 17-yard gain. As Mark Schofield points out here, the beauty of the fly sweep is that it is actually considered a forward pass so if the ball were to hit the ground during this exchange, it would be considered an incomplete pass. This allows Clemson to put the ball into McCloud’s hands through a low-risk, high-reward play design, and it can also set the defense up for another play to be run off the fly motion later in the game.

Aside from manufactured touches, McCloud was also used as a traditional WR throughout the night. Clemson likes to operate out of a shotgun double slot formation with 11 personnel and that is what they did on this next play. It is now mid-second quarter and the Tigers hold a 14-0 lead with the ball on their own 10-yard line and McCloud is set just inside the numbers on the wide side of the field. The Yellow Jackets match the Tigers’ double slot formation with their 4-2-5 nickel package with a Cover 4 look over the top of the defense.

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When the ball is snapped, McCloud runs a quick 5-yard out route as part of a stick concept, Watson eyes the CB playing off coverage on McCloud and gets the ball out to him immediately. McCloud secures the ball in stride and turns upfield for a 9-yard gain.

Three plays later on the same drive, Clemson quickly gets the ball to McCloud who again demonstrates why the Tiger coaches make this such a high priority. The Tigers have a first and 10 with the ball on their own 22-yard line. They have 11 personnel in a shotgun offset i-right alignment with slot formation to the wide side of the field and single receiver to the boundary. The Yellow Jackets keep their 4-2-5 nickel personnel package on the field and align with two deep safeties.

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Watson calls for the snap and immediately turns and throws a quick screen to McCloud who has fellow WR Artavis Scott (#3) out wide to block for him. When McCloud receives the ball, he is three yards behind the line of scrimmage. He turns upfield and immediately plants his outside foot in the ground and cuts inside making the cornerback miss. He then shows good balance through contact, as he spins off of the tackle attempts of both pursuing LBs and continues upfield before finally being brought down for a 9-yard gain.

McCloud is not just limited to the quick passing game and manufactured touches. This final play highlights McCloud’s ability to threaten the intermediate and deep areas of the field. It is late in the second quarter with the score still 14-0 and Clemson has the ball on the Yellow Jacket 45-yard line. McCloud lines up in the slot and the Tigers run a smash concept out of 12 personnel versus Georgia Tech’s Cover 3 shell with McCloud running the corner route.

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Watson receives the snap, fakes the handoff to Gallman and shows good processing skills giving a quick pump fake to Williams running a quick hitch on the outside. Recognizing that Georgia Tech was in Cover 3, he knew the CB had deep responsibility for that side of the field and used the pump fake to draw him down to open up the corner route behind him. He then fires the ball to McCloud as he is breaking towards the corner in front of the safety. Watson actually puts the ball slightly behind the receiver, but McCloud make a great adjustment, climbing the ladder and high-pointing the ball in traffic for a 24-yard gain.

Outside of his role in the offense, McCloud also provides a big impact for the Tigers on special teams as the primary punt returner, and he has the ability as well as the experience to return kicks. With the Tigers’ offense struggling early in the season and WR Hunter Renfrow nursing a broken bone in his hand, Ray Ray McCloud may be one of the primary keys to the 2016 season for the Clemson offense. In a conference filled with some of the best offensive talent in the country, the Clemson offense will need McCloud to continue to be a difference maker if they want to be able to keep up in the race for the ACC crown.

Follow Sean on Twitter @PhllyDraft. Check out more of Sean’s work here, such as on what Dorian Green-Beckham can do for the Philadelphia Eagles, how coach Bronco Mendenhall gets to the quarterback, how Carson Wentz did in his first preseason game,what Justin Fuente brings to the Virginia Tech Hokies offense, and on Mark Richt and the triangle offense in Miami.

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All film courtesy of ESPN.

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