Despite miscues, Parker proves he's a leader

CLEMSON, S.C. --- Kyle Parker could have checked his bank balance on Friday and wondered what in the heck he was doing stepping on a football field the next afternoon.


But the Clemson quarterback isn't the kind of guy to take the money and run. He proved that after suffering bruised ribs against Auburn two weeks ago and plans to prove it again after suffering a bruised ego in a turnover-plagued 30-21 loss to Miami on Saturday.

"I take full responsibility," Parker said after the Tigers' second consecutive loss to a top-20 team. "I thought I played pretty poorly and put those guys (Miami) in good situations. I didn't think I was timid at all. I went out there and stood in the pocket, I just didn't make throws or hold onto the ball."

The first installment of Parker's $1.4 million signing bonus for being a first-round draft pick of the Colorado Rockies was deposited on Friday. He had almost plenty more financial reasons to give up football altogether this year, but chasing an Atlantic Coast Conference title for the Tigers was worth giving up $850,000.

The rest of Parker's bonus is contingent upon him staying healthy enough to report to Rockies spring training. You had to wonder if Parker was having second thoughts about coming back after an Auburn player speared him in the back and caused a new constant source of pain. After resting for most of last week, he played with a pad to cover his lower back on Saturday and insisted it was not the reason he struggled against the Hurricanes.

"I know it's there and it's something I can definitely play with," he said of the bruised ribs. "I don't want to make an excuse out of it. I stayed out there and played. You've got to give a lot of credit to the offensive line. They really didn't let a lot of guys hit me or get to me. The allowed me to go pain-free throughout the game and that's really all you can ask."

Parker's leadership of the Tigers is growing by the week. If there was ever the thought in the back of anyone's mind that he was just a baseball player posing as a football guy was dispelled when he hung in for the duration despite obvious pain in the overtime loss at Auburn. Had a receiver held onto his third-down pass in the end zone, it could have been the heroic catalyst to a special season.

Parker gained immense respect from his teammates after that effort. Saturday gained him a different kind of leadership badge as he never ducked from his role in a sloppy ACC opening loss. Parker threw two interceptions that let Miami turn a tie into a 27-14 halftime lead with short strikes. He also fumbled to squelch the Tigers' last gasp of rallying in the closing minutes.

"This one was a little more frustrating because we didn't play well," Parker said of an offense that turned the ball over six times. "I can live with Auburn all day ... this one we just made a lot of mistakes. It was mainly my fault. I told the guys that most of this falls on me and I'm going to do my best to get them in good situations from here on in."

In fairness, Parker doesn't deserve as much blame as he's shouldering. The Tigers got pushed around on defense, giving up 171 rushing yards to the Hurricanes as well as four first-half touchdown passes by Jacory Harris.

But the Tiger offense never really got into a rhythm, aside from a 71-yard touchdown burst by Andre Ellington. The Tigers had only three sustained drives of more than five plays and they had 13 possessions that yielded nothing in five plays or less.

"We couldn't sustain drives and had a lot of turnovers," said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. "There is no way to have an effective offense with flaws like these."

In spite of everything. the Tigers still had a chance to win or force a fourth consecutive overtime game against Miami. With Parker finally settled into a rhythm, the Tigers drove into the red zone in the fourth quarter trailing 27-21. But a holding call nullified one big gain and the Hurricanes made huge stops on third and fourth down with the Tigers only needing 1 yard on each.

It was a tough start for the defending Atlantic Division champions, who face seven consecutive conference games in the next seven weeks starting next Saturday at North Carolina.

The Tigers look to Parker again to lead them out of a hole -- as he did last year.

"There's a lot of people out there, just like last year, who are questioning us right now," Parker said. "We've been in this situation before. We lost some games we really didn't think we should have last year and we responded well. I fully expect we'll respond well this year and get this thing back on track."

Parker isn't counting the days until baseball season or the balance in his checking account. More than ever, he's Clemson's leader and the Tigers' best hope for football success.